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BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police killed alleged terrorists plotting to attack the Beijing Olympics, while a flight crew managed to prevent an apparent attempt to crash a Chinese jetliner in a separate case just last week, officials said Sunday.
Wang Lequan, the top Communist Party official in the western region of Xinjiang, said materials seized in a January raid in the regional capital, Urumqi, had described a plot with a purpose "specifically to sabotage the staging of the Beijing Olympics."
Wang said the group had been trained by and was following the orders of a Uighur separatist group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM. The group has been labeled a terrorist organization by both the United Nations and the United States. East Turkestan is another name for Xinjiang.
China says its main terror threat comes from ETIM. Although the group is not believed to have more than a few dozen members, terrorism experts say it has become influential among extremist groups using the Internet to raise funds and find recruits.
Wang said security forces would take pro-active measures to crush terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism.
"These guys are fantasizing if they think they can disrupt the Olympics," said Wang, known for his hardline stance on crushing dissent. "They don't have the strength."
China's Qing dynasty completed its annexation of what is now Xinjiang in 1759, and the region's first demand for independence can be traced to an uprising by a local chieftain named Yakub Beg in 1865. He fought fierce battles against the armies of the Chinese court and even managed to secure, in return for trade concessions, diplomatic recognition from tsarist Russia and the United Kingdom. Although finally defeated in 1877, Beg's campaign set a precedent by calling for Uighur independence based on appeals to religion and ethnicity.
With the end of China's imperial era, the Uighurs (in combination with other local Muslim groups) twice briefly achieved statehood. From 1931 to 1934, and again from 1944 to 1949, separate regimes calling themselves the Eastern Turkestan Republic were set up in Xinjiang. The first, which started in the city of Hami, was crushed by a local warlord representing the government of the erstwhile Republic of China. The second, which centered on the districts of Ili, Altai, and Chugachak, was pressured into integrating with the People's Republic of China shortly after the latter's formation. For the next four decades, Xinjiang's Communist rulers kept the lid on ethnic separatism in the region through iron-fisted control. But for many Uighurs the aspiration for a country of their own never went away.