Report: 5,000 Chinese Uighurs fighting in Syria, most ‘under their own banner’

by WorldTribune Staff, May 9, 2017

Some 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from China’s western Xinjiang province are fighting in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China said.

Ambassador Imad Moustapha told Reuters on the sidelines of a business forum on May 8 that while some of the Uighurs were fighting with Islamic State (ISIS), most were fighting “under their own banner” to promote their separatist cause.

The Uighurs are said to be entering Syria via Southeast Asia and Turkey.

“Our estimated numbers, because of the numbers we fight against, we kill, we capture, we wound, would be around 4-5,000 Xinjiang jihadists,” Moustapha said. “China as well as every other country should be extremely concerned.”

Hundreds have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years, most in unrest between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants who it says want a separate state called East Turkestan.

China is said to be concerned that the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, traveled illegally via Southeast Asia and Turkey to Syria and Iraq to fight for militants there.

Rights groups and Uighur exiles say many Uighurs have fled to Turkey simply to escape Chinese repression at home, accusations Beijing denies.

Moustapha said China did not pick favorites with rebel groups, like Western countries, and China and Syria were cooperating to fight the threat.

“They don’t have a mixed message,” he said, referring to China.

“They understand the true nature of the ultra-Islamic jihadi doctrine of these groups. Yes, we do exchange information and a little bit more than information regarding these terrorist groups,” he said, without elaborating.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television in March, praised “crucial cooperation” between Syria and Chinese intelligence against Uighur militants. He said ties with China were “on the rise.”