- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

HONG KONG Scores of Islamic separatists from China's northwestern Xinjiang province were sponsored and trained by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, China's state-owned television reported.

The official China Central Television station reported that Uighur activists who are campaigning for an independent East Turkestan state in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were trained by al Qaeda members in camps in northern Afghanistan.

Many Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking, Muslim native people of the region, want to break away from predominantly Han China. Beijing has traditionally kept quiet about the decade-old movement, and some international observers interpret the recent display of attention as an effort to entice U.S. support for moves against Uighur separatists while the war against terrorism is in progress.

The report said that from 1992 until last year, about 100 activists were trained by bin Laden followers and then returned to Xinjiang to carry out attacks on Chinese authorities. The television report said 162 persons died in the attacks.

In an interview with the television station, Awuti Mamuti, an activist said to have trained in Afghanistan, said the camps and training were sponsored by bin Laden. He said that more than 500 people were trained at a tightly secured facility and that bin Laden had paid for the entire venture.

Mr. Mamuti said he spotted bin Laden once in October 1997. He said bin Laden was just a few feet away but they did not shake hands.

The broadcast included videotape believed to have been shot at a clandestine meeting of separatists in the Xinjiang city of Hetan in 1996. Those present wore face masks and spoke about methods of carrying out attacks in the province.

The broadcast said most of the activists were living outside China and were linked with international terrorist groups.

China has generally supported the U.S. war against terrorism and, since the September 11 attacks, has asserted links between the Xinjiang separatists and al Qaeda activities. Human rights observers have decried an authoritarian crackdown in the region.

"Some individual Uighurs have made their way to Afghanistan, but that hardly justifies the broad crackdown now under way," Sidney Jones of New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement in October, during a summit of Asian leaders.

Geological surveys suggest Xinjiang province, once the site of China's nuclear-testing facilities, contains extensive deposits of oil and natural gas. With its economic expansion dependent largely on rapidly modernizing its manufacturing capabilities, China's energy demands are expected to increase dramatically in coming decades.

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