A gruesome Isis video depicting Uighur fighters in Iraq calling for attacks on China has raised concern that the Asian nation could become a target for jihadist groups, even as Beijing stages mass military manoeuvres designed to quell separatist sentiment in the restive frontier region of Xinjiang.
The graphic video denouncing “evil Chinese communist infidel lackeys” came from the Iraqi arm of the militant group, according to Site, a US-based company that tracks jihadis and white supremacist activities online. Reuters, which first reported on the video, independently confirmed the translation.
“In retaliation for the tears that flow from the eyes of the oppressed we will make your blood flow in rivers, by the will of God,” says one fighter featured in the video, speaking in Uighur.
The video, which also features child fighters as well as two executions of unidentified people, coincides with Chinese troop deployments in Xinjiang, which were triggered by a deadly knife attack at a government compound.
Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, who had not seen the video, told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that a Uighur separatist organisation known as ETIM “poses a severe threat to the security and stability of China and the region”.
The video release follows disclosure of Chinese “joint counter-terrorism operations” in Afghanistan last month. Beijing is taking a more active role in Afghanistan as the Americans reduce their presence but remains wary that its involvement could make it a target for Islamist wrath.
Chen Quanguo, the new Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang, recently arrived from Tibet, believes a strong hand will deter unrest. Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to Xinjiang, face discriminatory education, employment and religious policies. Tensions in Xinjiang tend to flare following demonstrations of military force, which in turn are often deployed in response to violent attacks.
The video is not the first Isis effort to attract Uighur recruits and the group has appealed to some Uighurs’ aspirations for their own nation of “East Turkestan”. However, historic animosity between Arabic and Turkic speakers tends to limit the allure of Isis for Uighurs. In 2015 Isis executed three Uighur fighters who were attempting to desert its forces in Syria, Chinese newspaper Global Times reported.
Chinese experts estimate that roughly 100 Chinese citizens have joined Isis in Syria. Not all are Uighurs. Previous Isis videos have appealed to the Mandarin speakers that make up 95 per cent of China’s 1.4bn population.
Chaos in Syria and Iraq has attracted some Chinese adventurers including Fan Jinghui, a former journalist from Beijing, who was taken hostage by Isis and executed in 2015 after unsuccessfully appealing online for someone to pay his ransom.
Get alerts on Terrorism when a new story is published