The Chinese government says police have raided a "terrorist camp" in Xinjiang province with links to "international terrorist forces." Officials say 18 terrorists and one policeman were killed during the operation while 17 suspects were arrested. Daniel Schearf reports for VOA from Beijing.
The Chinese government says the raid took place in the mountainous Pamirs plateau in the far west of China, near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The official Xinhua news agency says those killed were from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.
Chinese officials say the group is linked to al-Qaida. In 2002, the United Nations and U.S. government added the group to their terrorist lists.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the alleged terrorists had links to "international terrorist forces" but refused to name any organizations.
"A host of facts, including in this operation, show evidence that the East Turkistan terrorist forces are connected with international terrorist forces," said Liu. "In China they have plotted, organized, and carried out a series of violent terrorist activities."
Liu said police arrested 17 others at the camp, but refused to say what charges they face or where they are being held.
He said police seized 22 homemade hand grenades and parts for making more than 15,00 more. Chinese media reports say police also seized guns and other explosives.
Human-rights groups and experts on Xinjiang say the Chinese government has produced little evidence of organized terrorism. They say Beijing uses terrorism as an excuse to suppress Xinjiang's ethnic minority Uighur Muslim population.
Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people with a culture closer to Central Asia than that of Beijing.
Dru Gladney, a professor of anthropology at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and an expert on Xinjiang, says many Uighurs desire more autonomy from Beijing's heavy-handed rule.
"It is no surprise that you would find Uighurs sympathetic to independence movements," he said. "But, whether they are organized into a separatist movement per se or have any links whatsoever to al-Qaida, that is highly suspicious. There is very little evidence to support that."
The Chinese government has sought cooperation from its Central Asian neighbors to prevent, what it calls, the three evil forces of terrorism, extremism, and separatism from gaining hold in the region. The neighbors have repatriated Uighurs Beijing considered terrorists.
Chinese officials say police are looking for several suspects who escaped during the raid. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu had no information on how many alleged terrorists had escaped or whether other countries would be involved in the search.