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China Assisting in Tracking Down al-Qaida Terrorists - 2003-02-19

The State Department's top counter-terrorism official says China is helping Washington track al-Qaida terrorists and the funds that support such groups. The two countries have just completed talks aimed at improving cooperation in the war on terrorism.

The State Department's counter-terrorism chief, Cofer Black, says his Chinese counterparts are sharing information of "great interest" about the al-Qaida terror network. "We did discuss al-Qaida as an organization, its operational philosophy, discussed the concern about the movement of al-Qaida personnel around the globe, certainly into this area of the globe," he said. "We did discuss it. That's about as far as I'm going to go."

U.S. officials blame al-Qaida for a series of attacks on U.S. targets including the September, 2001 incidents that killed thousands of Americans in New York and Washington.

Beijing says China has also been the victim of terror attacks, particularly in its far western Xinjiang region. Xinjiang is home to millions of Muslims, including many Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group.

Chinese officials say Uighur Muslim terror groups with roots in Xinjiang have close links with al-Qaida, and are a threat to peace and stability in the territory, which shares a border with Afghanistan.

Human rights groups and U.S. officials have said China exaggerates the threat as an excuse to continue a campaign of indiscriminate repression that strikes peaceful political and religious dissidents as well as violent terrorists.

But last September, China persuaded Washington to include an Uighur organization called the "East Turkistan Islamic Movement," or ETIM, on its list of terrorist groups. Rights groups criticized Washington for the decision, but Mr. Black says ETIM's terror activities are well-documented and the designation is appropriate. "We are in the counter-terrorism business. We are engaged in preventing acts of murder against women and children."

He refused to say if China asked Washington to consider adding other groups to its list of banned terror organizations. The listing gives Washington a legal basis to freeze a group's assets in the United States.

Mr. Black says he discussed efforts to find and block the international flows of money that help terrorist groups operate. He said China's robust economy makes it a possible conduit for such funds, although he says he is not aware of any money that has been seized or accounts frozen here in China.

This week's talks in Beijing are the third consultations between the United States and China on cooperation in the war on terrorism.