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China claims to bust radical Muslim gang
China Olympic Secur 5433442
A man reads a newspaper featuring a photo of armed Chinese police riding Segways, at a news stand in Beijing Wednesday July 9, 2008. Chinese authorities on Wednesday reminded Olympics fans of strict security rules at this summer's Beijing Games, including bans on everything from radioactive materials to long-handled umbrellas. China plans to deploy about 100,000 anti-terrorism police during the games, with some of Beijing's 500,000 Olympic volunteers also serving in security roles. - photo by Associated Press
    BEIJING — Chinese police shot dead five members of a radical Islamic separatist group in western China, state media reported Wednesday, as officials called for an all-out security push ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
    No hard evidence was offered to back up the claim, although a leading terror expert said such incidents underscore the significant threat Beijing faces from an al-Qaida-linked radical group fighting for independence in the predominantly Muslim far western Xinjiang region.
    With the games just weeks away, Chinese officials are ordering increasingly draconian security measures, with a dual ring of hundreds of checkpoints due to go up around Beijing starting next week.
    State media accounts of Tuesday’s raid in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, said two other members of the group were hospitalized with injuries and eight others detained.
    The group, all members of Xinjiang’s indigenous Uighur ethnic group and including five women, brandished knives and swore to fight to the death after more than a dozen police officers surrounded their apartment, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
    ‘‘The suspects confessed they had all received training on the launching of a ’holy war,’’’ Xinhua said.
    Xinhua said the group sought independence for Xinjiang and planned to slaughter members of China’s majority Han ethnic group who have streamed into the region, 1,500 miles west of Beijing, since it was occupied by communist troops in 1949.
    The report said police had been hunting the gang since it attacked a beauty salon in May and were forced to open fire Tuesday when the alleged radicals charged out of the apartment after tear gas was fired into it.
    Calls to the police spokesman’s office in Urumqi rang unanswered Wednesday, and a security guard at the Chenguan Garden community where the raid reportedly occurred hung up the phone when asked about the incident.
    Authorities have previously accused Xinjiang separatists of attempting to crash an airliner in March and planning to kidnap athletes and journalists during the games.
    The Urumqi shootings come amid high government anxiety over security for the Olympics. Authorities, who have already taken extraordinary measures to ensure safety, issued a reminder Wednesday that many items would be banned at venues, from long-handled umbrellas to radioactive materials to cigarette lighters.
    At a rally for Olympic organizers Wednesday, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping called security the single most important task for organizers ahead of the games.
    ‘‘A safe Olympics is the biggest indicator of the success of the games,’’ Xi, tasked with supervising overall Olympic preparations, said in a speech at the Great Hall of the People, seat of China’s legislature.
    ‘‘A safe Olympics is also a key indicator of the positive reflection of our nation’s image,’’ he said, underscoring the national prestige communist leaders have invested in the Aug. 8-24 games.
    China claims Tibetan forces allied with the exiled Dalai Lama and Xinjiang separatists are seeking to torpedo the games with violent plots.
    No evidence has been provided to support the claims; critics accuse Beijing of using terrorism accusations to silence even peaceful dissent and often portraying ordinary criminal acts or civil unrest as terrorist-inspired.
    Like Tibetans, Xinjiang’s indigenous Uighur ethnic group has a distinct language and culture, and extremists among them long have waged a low-intensity struggle against Chinese rule. Many have been sentenced to long prison terms or death on separatism charges.
    Xinhua did not say if the alleged Urumqi gang was affiliated with any known terrorist groups. Beijing typically blames attacks on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, a militant group that demands separation from China, and which Washington claims is linked with al-Qaida.
    Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert, said China faces a ‘‘significant threat’’ from the ETIM, but is poorly equipped to analyze and respond to the danger.
    Harsh Chinese restrictions on expressions of Uighur identity and Islamic practice have radicalized sections of the Uighur population, Gunaratna said. And the ETIM, which operates training bases along China’s borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, has increasingly shifted its focus from Xinjiang independence to global jihad, he added.
    ‘‘China lacks sophistication in its approach,’’ Gunaratna said in a telephone interview, referring to recent reports that authorities tore down a mosque in Xinjiang in retaliation for not enthusiastically promoting the Olympics.
    ‘‘They need to build bridges with the Muslim community to isolate the radicals,’’ he said.
    Despite heavy security, Xinjiang groups will likely still attempt attacks in Beijing to ‘‘spoil the mood’’ of the games, Gunaratna said.

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