Two weeks before the start of the Olympics in Beijing, China is denying claims made in a video that has been linked to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that the group is responsible for the fatal July 21 bus bombings in Kunming.
In addition to the Kunming bus attacks, the group is also claiming to be behind a May 5 bus explosion in Shanghai. The video also states that the ETIM-linked group is planning more attacks on China during the Olympics, which begin on August 8 and will be held in seven Chinese cities, including Beijing.
ETIM is officially considered a terrorist organization by China, the US, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and the United Nations. ETIM's primary goal is to split Xinjiang – known as East Turkestan prior to annexation by China in 1955 – from the mainland. Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uighur ethnic group, a Turkic people which is predominantly Muslim.
In the video – a copy of which has been posted on YouTube – two masked and armed men stand behind a masked man calling himself Commander Seyfullah of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), which US-based private intelligence service Stratfor says is another name used by ETIM. The video includes scenes of the aftermath of the Kunming bus attacks plus other bus attacks.
In the first official response to the video, a Yunnan official said no link between terrorism and the bus attacks has been found so far. Five days after bus bombings in Kunming that killed two and injured 14, police have yet to announce any major clues in the case.
"We have noticed media reports about the claims, but so far, no evidence has been found to indicate the explosions were connected with terrorists and their attacks, or with the Beijing Olympics," a Yunnan Public Security Bureau spokesman told Xinhua, according to a Reuters report.
Stratfor notes that this year TIP has begun to make noise on the Internet, with videos featuring calls for a Uighur jihad against China, training scenes, executions of at least three Han Chinese, and profiles of the group and its former leader Hasan Mahsum, who was killed in Pakistan in 2003.
ETIM fractured after Mahsum's death and many of its members relocated to Afghanistan. After 2003, ETIM has been linked to Uzbek and other foreign militants operating around the border area shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan. More recently, TIP has been releasing a growing number videos, most notably an April 2008 video in which it warned China it would attack the Olympics, according to Stratfor.
TIP's leader is believed to be a man named Abdul Haq, who worked with Mahzum to train Uighur militants in Afghanistan in 2001 and has ordered attacks on central China. According to a transcript released by US-based IntelCenter, Commander Seyfullah states in the video – which is dated July 23rd – that:
"Our damullah, Abdul Heq [Haq], made his final order to the [person] responsible for the military regarding the issue of severely attacking all central cities in inner China, particularly focusing on eight cities that are going to hold Olympic games. ... ask our merciful Allah to allow these brothers and sisters [suicide bombers] to deal a fatal blow in this jihad against Chinese and we ask our merciful Allah to completely stop Olympic Games. ... Bomb Chinese government buildings, military barracks, airplanes, airports, railways, hotels, entertainment venues, tourist spots and similar places...You're even permitted to use biological weapons this time."
While ETIM/TIP are considered to have the operational capacity to strike mainland China outside of Xinjiang, analysts are skeptical of TIP's claims to be behind the Kunming and Shanghai attacks, with some suggesting an attempt by a group – which may or may not be TIP – to increase China's terrorism jitters before the Olympics by claiming responsibility for unrelated incidents around the country this year.