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Chinese Islamic group issues new Olympic threat

Aug. 07, 2008, 9:31 p.m. (ET)

URUMQI, China (AP) A Chinese Islamic group that has threatened to attack the Beijing Olympics released a new video warning Muslims to avoid being on planes, trains and buses with Chinese at the games, a U.S. group that monitors militant organizations said Thursday.

The video was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, which seeks independence for China's western Xinjiang region, the SITE Intelligence Group said. The militants are believed to be based in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.

Last month, the militant group issued videotaped threats and claimed responsibility for a series of bus bombings in China. The new video, issued just ahead of Friday's opening of the games, features graphics similar to ones used earlier: a burning Olympics logo and an explosion imposed over an apparent Olympic venue.

The speaker in the six-minute video wears a black turban and covers his face. Gripping a Kalashnikov rifle, he speaks in the Turkic language of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority in China's western Xinjiang territory. The Uighurs have with a long history of tense relations with the central government.

Urging Muslims to "choose your side," the man warns: "Do not stay on the same bus, on the same train, on the same plane, in the same buildings, or any place the Chinese are," according to a translation by SITE.

Ben Venzke, of Washington-based IntelCenter, another agency that monitors militant groups, identified the speaker as Abdullah Mansour from the group's religious education department.

"I think what they're doing is they're trying to capitalize on the buildup to the games," said Venzke.

Venzke said his group believes that based on the militant group's demonstrated ability to conduct bombings "and the apparent opportunity TIP believes the Olympic Games presents in terms of targeting and striking a blow to China, that the threat is credible and should be taken seriously."

He said the release of a five-page written threat, in conjunction with two videos over the last three months by the group "is indicative of an orchestrated campaign designed to fulfill jihadists belief that they should provide warning before launching a significant attack."

More than 100,000 soldiers and police are guarding Beijing and other Olympic cities. Terrorism experts say the heavy security would likely force attackers to target less-protected areas.

"I think the actual Olympics themselves, the venues, the guests, the athletes, are going to be safe," said Drew Thompson, director of China studies at the Nixon Center in Washington.

He added that Uighur groups haven't demonstrated any capabilities of attacking Beijing or other cities during the games. He also said there's nothing in the previous video that establishes conclusively that the Turkistan Islamic Party was involved in the explosions it claimed to have a hand in.

But he added, "There's obviously significant numbers of Uighurs ... with some sort of cause who have a grudge against ... Chinese authority and are prepared to use violence to seek whatever objectives they're seeking."

This week, Chinese authorities say two Uighurs staged one of the most audacious attacks in years in Xinjiang. The men stole a truck and rammed it into a group of 60 border police during in Kashgar, a small city near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, authorities say. The men, who were later arrested, continued the attack with homemade bombs and knives, killing 16 police, officials said.

Authorities have called the men terrorists, but officials have released no evidence linking them to a specific group.

The video issued Wednesday claims the communist regime's alleged mistreatment of Muslims justifies holy war. It accuses China of forcing Muslims into atheism by capturing and killing Islamic teachers and destroying Islamic schools, according to the SITE. It says China's birth control program has forced abortions on Muslim women.

Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, appeared to be on high alert Thursday. Security guards were checking bags at the entrances of hotels, department stores and discos in the busy city, where office towers and apartments buildings have been shooting up in recent years.

Guards with red arm bands rode on most public buses, watchful for attackers. Small groups of police patrolled the sidewalks of the bustling Muslim quarter, where merchants cooked lamb kebabs and sliced up watermelons at fruit stands.

The officers were largely ignored by the Uighur women in colorful head scarves and the men wearing skull caps decorated with elaborate embroidery or sequins, who haggled over goods or shouted into mobile phones.

Meanwhile, in Kashgar - an hour and half west of Urumqi by plane - the police killed in Monday's attack were declared to be "revolutionary martyrs" during a memorial ceremony, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The people of all ethnic groups in Kashi will remember you forever," said one banner held up by the crowd, Xinhua said, using the Chinese name for the town.

Although signs and slogans around the city urge people to "build a harmonious Kashgar," the residents seem to be far from achieving the goal. Mutual resentment and contempt is almost palpable and seems to simmer beneath a facade of relative calm.

At the Hua Du Hotel in northwestern Kashgar, a help wanted poster said the business wanted to hire workers who were female and Han Chinese - the nation's majority ethnic group.

The manager, who wouldn't give her name, said, "We need someone with good language skills and most Uighurs can't speak Chinese well. We also have high standards for cleaning the rooms, and Uighurs just can't meet those standards."

In Kashgar's Old City district, a 22-year-old Uighur shopkeeper said that Xinjiang independence was virtually impossible. The man, who only gave his English name Michael because he feared reprisals, said he opposed violent attacks on Han Chinese.

But he added, "I don't like the Chinese because they don't like Uighurs. We are Muslims and they dislike Islam. We have different values. We're two different people."

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Associated Press Writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

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