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Islamic State Seeks Recruits in China

  • Henry Ridgwell

The Islamic State terror group is recruiting Chinese Muslims to enlist in its extremist cause and join IS fighters "on the battlefield."

A video message that IS recently circulated in Mandarin Chinese has prompted Beijing to call for more international cooperation against extremism.

"In the face of terrorism, no country can stand on its own,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “The international community should stand closer together and cooperate to jointly strike against all forms of terrorism."

Like al-Qaida in the past, the Islamic State group could be attempting to reach out to restive Muslim Uighur populations in China's far west.

"But you never really saw al-Qaida put any resources behind trying to launch attacks or support that group [in China],” said Raffaello Pantucci, a security analyst at the Royal United Services Institute. “I think we're seeing a very similar narrative at the moment with ISIS."

ISIS is a common acronym for the Islamic State.

FILE - Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Nov. 20, 2015. Three Chinese railway executives were killed in the attack.Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Nov. 20, 2015.

FILE - Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Nov. 20, 2015. Three Chinese railway executives were killed in the attack.Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Nov. 20, 2015.

China's enormous expansion of investment and public-works activities in the Middle East and Africa is raising Beijing's exposure to terrorism in those regions, Pantucci says. For example, three Chinese railway executives were killed last month in an attack on the Radisson hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako.

"The threat of ISIS to China is less one that's probably going to touch Chinese shores,” he said. “I think the bigger threat to them is Chinese nationals in third locations who may get caught up in some kind of ISIS attack."

Beijing called for greater coordination in the fight against terror at this week's summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping of six Eurasian states.

But Pantucci says China and its allies have a different definition of extremism, compared to the West.

"And all of them have the same problems with non-state groups, be they politically minded or violent,” he said. “And they all interpret it in the same way, so terrorism is always a useful banner that they can all get around."

Analysts say those differing interpretations could hamper cooperation between China and the West, but also agree there are increasing signs that Beijing is willing to provide greater support for the fight against Islamic State.

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