China called for the arrest and extradition of eight alleged separatists accused of plotting a campaign of terror to coincide with the Beijing Olympics — a scheme that reportedly included bomb attacks within China and in unspecified countries in the Middle East and South Asia.
A Public Security Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that the eight men, all Chinese citizens, were believed to have financed, incited and organized attacks during and around the Aug. 8-24 games as part of an ongoing insurgency against Chinese rule in the traditionally Muslim west.
Wu Heping told reporters at a news briefing that the men were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a murky collection of extremists believed to be based across the border in lawless areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He did not say where the men were, but just that China wants them to be arrested and extradited. Wu did not cite specific attacks or take any questions.
In August, violence in Xinjiang — home to the ethnic Uighur minority — killed 33 people, including 16 border guards slain when two attackers rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing bombs and stabbing them.
The eight men "seriously threatened the security of the Beijing Olympic Games and China's social stability, while at the same time composing a threat to the security and stability of relevant countries and the region," Wu said.
Wu did not say if the eight were thought to be behind the Xinjiang attacks.
Low-intensity campaign of bombings
Radical Uighurs opposed to Chinese rule have long waged a low-intensity campaign of bombings and assassinations against Chinese officials. But terrorism experts say the struggle has taken a deadlier, more radical turn in recent years through exposure to global terror groups such as al-Qaida.
Wu said one of the men planned to bomb a supermarket popular with Chinese in an unspecified Middle Eastern country before the Olympic Games. Another suspect had prepared to attack a Chinese club in a South Asian nation, he said, without giving details.
The men also organized numerous attacks within China, but it was not clear from Wu's statement if any of them were carried out.
Xinjiang's native Uighur ethnic group are Muslims whose language, culture and religion are distinct from those of China's Han majority. Many Uighurs complain of a colonial-style Chinese presence in their territory, chafing under tight religious and cultural strictures and complaining that economic development has disproportionately benefited Chinese migrants.