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US: Chinese Muslim Separatists Planning Attacks on Foreign Interests - 2002-08-30


U.S. officials in Beijing say a Muslim separatist group from China may have been plotting attacks on foreign interests in Central Asia. The group, known as ETIM, was recently added to a U.S. list of terrorist organizations or organizations that support terror.

They are called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and they want a separate Islamic homeland in the Xinjiang region of western China.

News reports cite unnamed U.S. officials as saying they have evidence linking ETIM members to planned attacks on embassies, trade centers and public gathering places in Kyrgyzstan, one of the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.

In Beijing, the U.S. Embassy spokesman would not confirm the reports. He did, however, say Kyrgyzstan deported two suspected ETIM members to China in May, on suspicion they were planning attacks on foreign embassies and businesses in the capital, Bishkek.

Until recently, Washington viewed the Uighur independence groups as activists seeking political change rather than terrorists bent on violence. But, earlier this week. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage said ETIM had attacked civilian groups without regard to the consequences.

Xinjiang Communist Party Chief Wang Lequan and other Chinese officials have been trying for months to convince Washington the Muslim Uighur independence groups in Xinjiang are a serious terrorist threat.

In an interview last May, the party official said many Uighurs have received terrorist training from Osama bin Laden's organization in neighboring Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden is blamed for the terror attacks last September that killed thousands of Americans.

Human rights groups accuse China of using the war on terrorism as an excuse for a crackdown that crushes peaceful dissent.

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