Lies and false hopes en­trap Xin­jiangers

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

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 cui­jia@chi­ and hena@chi­

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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.”

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