Chinese authorities have asked Pakistan to hand over members of the extremist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) believed to be operating out of the country, naming six terror suspects in a list issued on Friday that described the group as the “most direct and real safety threat that China faces”.
The six men were “core members” of the ETIM, said the Ministry of Public Security in a statement. They were identified as Nurmemet Memetmin, Abdulkyum Kurban, Paruh Tursun, Tursunjan Ebibla, Nurmemet Raxit and Mamat Imin Nurmamat — all Uighurs, the ethnic Turkic Muslim minority from China's far-western Xinjiang region which borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
While the Ministry's statement stopped short of stating directly their links to terror camps in Pakistan — it only mentioned “a South Asian country” — a separate statement from the Chinese government issued last year identified Mr. Memetmin as having trained terrorists in Pakistan to carry out attacks in the city of Kashgar that left at least 20 people dead.
Mr. Nurmamat was also believed to be in Pakistan, according to Chinese analysts. The Ministry of Public Security said he had fled China after an explosion triggered accidentally at a bomb-making terror unit in Shache, Xinjiang that was plotting an attack in October 2009.
The statement named Mr. Memetmin as one of the founders of the ETIM when it was set up in 1997. It said he had dispatched another ETIM member, Memtieli Tiliwaldi, to China in 2007. Mr. Tiliwaldi was named by the Xinjiang regional government last year as being behind bombings and knife-attacks in Kashgar in July that left at least 20 people killed.
That the statement named several alleged ETIM members known to be in Pakistan underscored rising Chinese concerns over Pakistani authorities failing to effectively clamp down on the spread of terror across the border into Xinjiang. These concerns have been reflected in several public statements issued following the Kashgar violence that have unusually pointed the finger at an “all-weather ally”.
The Ministry of Public Security said it hoped that “foreign governments and their law enforcing departments would help to arrest the six and hand them over to Chinese authorities”, adding that it had decided to freeze their funds and assets.
Pakistani officials have said they have taken steps to crack down on the ETIM. Major General Athar Abbas, Inter Services Public Relations Director-General, said following last year's attack in Kashgar that the Pakistani Army would continue operations against the organisations. He also pointed out the successes of its operations, such as the killing of ETIM leaders Hasan Mahsum in 2003 and Miamaitming Maimaili, also known as Abdul Haq al Turkistani, in February 2011.
Last month, following violence in Yecheng, near Kashgar, that left at least 20 people killed, Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri said those behind recent incidents had “a thousand and one links” to terrorists in neighbouring Pakistan. He did, however, add that “violent activities by individual terrorists” would not affect bilateral ties.
Critics of Mr. Bekri and some Uighur scholars such as economist Ilham Tohti have, however, accused the government of exaggerating the terror threat by describing all incidents of ethnic unrest in Xinjiang as “separatist activities” to justify harsh crackdowns. Riots in Urumqi between Uighurs and majority Han Chinese that left at least 197 people killed in July 2009 were also blamed by the government on terrorists, though they were seen by some scholars as reflecting deep-rooted ethnic tensions triggered by resentment towards increasing Han migration.