Lies and false hopes entrap Xinjiangers
The road along which Azat led his wife and children is called yijilate, which means “migration” in the Uygur language. The concept has been transformed into a movement by religious extremists who urge people to leave their homes and carry out holy war overseas.
“Many terrorist organizations use the concept of yijilate to recruit people from other countries to fight for them. They have established human-trafficking chains to help people to leave their home countries illegally,” said Yang Shu, director of the Central Asia Studies Center at LanzhouUniversity in Gansu province, who studies international terrorism.
The yijilate movement began topenetrateXinjiang, apredominantly Muslim region, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the authorities noticedasurgein the number of people crossing the border illegally to join international terrorist groups, he said.
According to the Xinjiang police, 90 percent of terrorist attacks carried out in the region
OnMarch 1 last year, a group from Xinjiang used knives to randomly attack members of the public at a railway station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. The attack left 31 people dead and 141 injured. The police investigation found that the group originally planned to cross the border in Yunnan illegally and carry out a holy war overseas. However, the plan was changed after the group’s members were ordered to carry out the attack in Kunming if they were unable to leave the country.
OnJune 29, 2012, sixmencarrying sharpened metal crutches and concealed explosives attempted to hijack Tianjin Airlines Flight GS7554, which was en route toUrumqi, the regional capital, shortly after the plane took off from Hotan airport in the south ofXinjiang.
The yijilate movement has grown and mushroomed in recent years, mainly thanks to its clever use of the Internet, and its activities have become more pronounced. A growing number of people are now willing to sell their homes and give up everything to travel abroad, according toYang. “The authorities must be prepared to deal with the situation,” he said.
Li Wei, who conducts research into anti-terrorism studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said yijilate is not unique to China, and it poses a global threat. “In 2014, the UN urged member countries to step up efforts to prevent their residents from participating in terrorist activities overseas,” he said.
The Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has long inland and maritime borders, which have resulted in the region becoming one of the major routes used by extremists who cross the border illegally.
“Guangxi has attached great importance to counterterrorism and illegal border crossings. In recent years, we have established multilevel, multichannel security cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, especially Vietnam and Cambodia,” said Peng Shunke, director of the International Cooperation Division of the Public Security Department in Guangxi.
In the past year, the Guangxi policehave assisted neighboring countries with investigations into 103 transnational crimes, and border control offices in other ASEAN countries have helped Guangxi with 101 cases.
“People associated with crossborder terrorism are prone to violence and are also very cunning,” Peng said. “We have instigated numerous measures, including counterterrorism training, to improve border controlswithneighboringcountries. We also share our experiences by exchanging information about suspected terrorists, and arresting and repatriating people involved in terrorism.”
He called on the countries involved to provide their neighbors with asmuchhelp as possible, within the scope of the law, to deal with terrorism and other transnational crimes. He also urged greater coordination of inquiries and wider notification of activities related to terrorism.
International terrorist groups use the promise of abetter life to lure Xinjiang people, especially the young, to travel overseas. The promise usually has a deadly sting in its tail, though.
Mardan Maolahong, a former member of an overseas terrorist cell, lost his lower right leg during combat.
Before he joined a terrorist cell, Mardan was an ambitious businessman in Xinjiang. “I was interested in the fashion industry and wanted to set up my own brand featuring traditional Uygur designs. I hoped that one day I would even export them to Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan,” he said during an interview with Xinjiang TV, filmed at a detention center in the region.
However, just as he was starting his business, an uncle called from overseas and asked Mardan to join him, saying he knew a good place to study religion and the tuition was free.
As a talented linguist, Mardan was excited by the idea of learning anewlanguage, which could prove useful when conducting business, and was also eager to learn more about Islam, so he quickly joined his uncle, with whom he had always been close.
Mardan didn’t name the country he went to, but said that when he arrived at the “school”, which was really a terrorist training camp, he was immediately alarmed.
“The living conditions there were even worse than in the average village in Xinjiang. We went tomarkets where everyone was armed, and I didn’t feel safe at all. Sometimes people even started fighting among themselves at the market,” he said.
The strong disparity between what he had imagined and reality madeMardan want to leave, but his uncle and other members of the cell forced him to stay. He eventually joined the group after being brainwashed for more than 10 days.
During the time he spent with the cell, Mardan’s lower right leg had to be amputated, and his unclewaskilledbythelocalarmy.
He was also forced to marry the widow of a cell member who had been killed in combat. Mardan said he always wanted to marry for love, but that became impossible when he joined the cell.
After the amputation, Mardan was given a highly classified job as a member of the cell’s publicity department, tasked with helping to make recruitment videos.
According to the Xinjiang police, almost all the violent attacks in the region have been carried out by people who have watched violent, terrorist videos, many of which were produced by the cell to which Mardan belonged.
“I shot a lot of video footage, but those in charge never showed us the full, edited versions because assistants don’t have clearance for the videos,” Mardan said.
The videos always showed well-equipped cell members, but the reality was very different. “That footage was staged. We bought camouflage uniforms at the local markets and asked cell members to wear them solely for the purposes of the video,” he said.
According to Mardan, the cell rarely carried out its activities during daylight hours for fear of being targeted by antiterrorist units, and the “achievements” featured in the videos were greatly exaggerated. Some of the footage was simply downloaded from sites on the Internet.
“For example, the videos claimedwetook over a prison or liberated some place, but nothing like that actually happened. We only said those things to lure other people from Xinjiang to join us,” he said.
“Many people joined us between 2012 and 2013 because they watched the videos,” he said. “After a while, though, most of them regretted their actions because the reality was so different from what they’d seen in the videos.”
Last year, Mardan escaped from the cell. He didn’t provide details in the interview, but said he is truly repentant.
“I didn’t know the difference between right and wrong until it was too late. I wasted the best years ofmy life in a terrorist cell when I could have been doing something truly meaningful,” he said. Contact the writers at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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of terrorist attacks carried out in Xinjiang are connected with the
movement, police said. were killed in an attack by a group from Xinjiang wielding knives at a railway station in Kunming. Mardan Maolahong, former member of an overseas terrorist cell
Turson spent his 23rd birthday in a detention center in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region after being caught helping to smuggle people out of China in February.
If he hadn’t fallen for the fake promises of a or “migration”, cell, Turson would well be on his way to becoming a doctor.
Recalling the time he spent at senior high school outside Xinjiang still excites Turson. He was one of just six students fromhis junior high to make it to a senior high school that accepted students fromthe region.
“That was the first time I took a train. It passed so many cities, and when I got off, I arrived at a beautiful city. The school was beautiful, too. The conditions in our dormitory were even better than those for local students— it had air conditioning and everything was very clean. Also, the food was halal,” he said, referring to Islamic dietary requirements, during an interview with Xinjiang TV.
Turson quickly discovered he had a talent for languages, and during his second year at the school he passed an English test designed for university students.
He wasn’t happy with the score he earned after taking the China’s national college entrance exam, so he decided to go back to his hometown for further study and then retake the exam the following year. His goal was to gain entry to a medical school in Xinjiang or even a higher-grade establishment in another part of the country.
While he was preparing for the exam, Turson met Mehmut Abula, who offered to teach him about religion. Turson had no idea that Mehmut, who worked at a construction site, was a primary school dropout.
The score he earned when he retook the ensured him a place at the university of his choice, but he never attended. He kept everyone in the dark, and even his parents thought he was studying at a university outside Xinjiang.
“Mehmut told me that I shouldn’t go to a school run by infidels, and said university graduates nowadays were all drifting away from Islam. He also said they were useless to Islam, so I shouldn’t go to a ‘non-halal’ university. He said he could help me go to a university in Egypt, but that turned out to be a lie,” Turson said.
“Later, he toldmethat everyone must carry out or they cannot be considered real Muslims,” he added. When he discovered the true nature of the group to which Mehmet had introduced him, Turson told fellow members that hewanted to quit. They responded by threatening his life.
“They wanted me to go to Malaysia and then head to Turkey. From there, I could go to carry out a holy war in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. I asked them to let me go and promised not to tell anyone, but they said I knew too much. They threatened me with two swords and said I had to follow their instructions or they would dumpmy body where evenmy parents couldn’t find it,” he said.
Turson felt he had no choice, so he gave Mehmut the 30,000 yuan ($4,846) his parents had given him to pay tuition fees, and was smuggled across the border into Vietnam.
Because he was good at English, Turson was asked to help the group communicate with their contacts overseas. He also helped eight groups of people to cross the border illegally. Four groups were captured and deported, though.
Turson’s role gave him access to information that frightened him. “In June 2014, I heard about a guy who had left Xinjiang and participated in the holy war for 19 years. He had just returned, and I met him in person. He told me that people try to flee ISIS, Syria and Afghanistan every day,” he said.
“I know I have to face the punishment from the law. It’s too late for regrets, but I just hope other young people will learn frommy mistakes.”