Despite suffering defeats in both Iraq and Syria recently, ISIS continues to expand their list of target nations, now setting their sights on China in a thirty-minute video released on Monday.
The video, believed to be filmed in a region of Iraq that remains under ISIS control, shows fighters from China’s Uighur minority. China has blamed the Uighur for a number of violent attacks in the western Xinjiang region – the Muslim Uighur homeland.
“Oh, you Chinese who do not understand what people say. We are the soldiers of the Caliphate, and we will come to you to clarify to you with the tongues of our weapons, to shed blood like rivers and avenging the oppressed,” the Uighur fighters say in the video.
The video contained footage of several heavily armed ISIS fighters, some of whom are clearly children. The fighters are shown giving speeches to groups, praying, and killing “informants.” It also shows scenes pulled from news outlets of Chinese riot police guarding mosques and arresting men seemingly tied to the Uighur. The Chinese flag is also shown being burned.
China has banned a number of Islamic cultural practices, and placed strict restrictions on others, such as growing beards, wearing headscarves or fasting during Ramadan, as China feels each of these practices indicates a level of “extremism.” One U.S. based think tank has claimed that at least one hundred Chinese Muslims have joined ISIS as a result of China’s strict policies regarding their religion.
“When we see the government involved in a very heavy crackdown, it hasn’t really ever solved the problem, it hasn’t made it go away,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute. “In some cases, it has made it worse.”
The video released on Monday marks the first time Chinese Uighur fighters have publicly claimed allegiance to ISIS, a development that could mean attacks on China are imminent and will likely come with the support of ISIS resources from elsewhere on the globe.
China has offered almost no participation in coalition efforts to wipe out ISIS in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere in the world, but their track record of fiercely enforcing what many in the international community have called “anti-Islamic” policies have made them a target for home-grown Islamic terrorism. Uighur fighters carried out an attack in the Xinjiang region’s capital of Urumqi in 2014, claiming the lives of 43 and injuring an additional 90. Most of their attacks, however, are on a much smaller scale.
China’s strict policies regarding guns could limit the ability of ISIS-loyal Uighur attackers to create mass casualties in an attack, but it seems likely that they could begin to adopt successful methodologies employed by ISIS elsewhere in the world, such as using vehicles to drive through crowds, as was the case in Germany last Christmas.
China continues its crack down on terrorism, gathering 10,000 police officers in Urumqi on Monday, the fourth such show of force this year. They have even begun offering rewards as high as $730,000 to anyone who exposes terror plots, or who can “kill, wound, or subdue” terror attack assailants.
Some have accused China of exaggerating the threat posed by the Uighur in order to grant themselves the authority to root out the Muslim minority in their nation, but it seems likely that by allying themselves with the international community’s number one boogey man, the Uighur are working to elevate themselves to the next level of domestic terrorism; a plan ISIS is surely happy to assist in.
China’s increasingly heavy hand toward Islam in general may indeed purge their nation of the terrorist threat, but it is potentially likely that their increased aggression toward the Muslim community could drive more Chinese citizens into the arms of the Uighur, bolstering their attack potential even further.
“They have been trying to swat flies with baseball bats,” Dru Gladney, an expert on Western China at Pomona College, said of China’s efforts to eliminate the Uighur. He may have been right, but with a partnership with ISIS, the Uighur may become a more viable threat than ever.
Image courtesy of Defense Update