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China: 5 'Olympic terror groups' smashed

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Human Rights Watch casts doubt on China's crackdown
  • China says smashes 5 groups on suspicion of plotting to attack Olympics
  • 82 arrests in autonomous region, home to a Sunni Muslim ethnic minority
  • The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China says it has destroyed five terrorist groups in a mainly Muslim autonomous region on suspicion of plotting to attack the Olympic Games, which start in less than a month.

China has launched a series of anti-terror drills to ensure security for the Beijing Games.

China has launched a series of anti-terror drills to ensure security for the Beijing Games.

Authorities have arrested 82 suspected terrorists in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the past six months, according to state-run media quoting Chen Zhuangwei, head of the Public Security Bureau in the regional capital of Urumqi.

Asked about the report, a Human Rights Watch analyst raised concerns that China may be using the Olympics as an excuse to crack down on ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

"It's clear that the police are simply adding cases of people who they think are engaging in activities that are critical of Chinese rule," Nicholas Bequelin told CNN.

The police also banned illegal preaching or "Holy War" training at 41 locations in the western Xinjiang province, the Xinhua report said.

Bequelin said those jihadist training camps described in Xinhua are most likely unsanctioned mosques.

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"Obviously these are just places where people are just practicing religion out of the state-controlled mosque," he said.

Muslims in China are allowed to practice their religion only in mosques that are approved by the Chinese government "with imams designated by the state on the basis of religious scripture approved and printed by the government," Bequelin said.

"Anything that takes place outside this is deemed illegal," he noted.

In addition, police cracked down on followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, arresting 25 "criminal suspects."

The arrests wrap up the first phase of China's Olympic Security Protection and the country now embarks on the second phase, Chen said.

"From today on, all police officers must urgently get into action and once again get into the various works of Olympic Public Security Protection," he said.

The Xinjiang autonomous region is home to about 19 million people, most of whom are Muslims and other minorities. Many of them oppose Beijing's rule. Along with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International has raised concerns about the crackdown.

Earlier this year, China announced dozens of arrests in Xinjiang that it said were part of a plot by Islamic terrorists to attack cities -- including Beijing and Shanghai -- ahead of the Summer Olympic Games, which begin on August 8.

China said the plots were linked to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement Organization, a terrorist group based outside China that sent its leader, Aji Mai Mai Ti, to China late last year "to accelerate the preparation on terrorism activities" targeting the Beijing Games.

The terrorist leader planned to target hotels in Beijing and Shanghai that were frequented by foreigners, as well as government buildings and military bases, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Security.

The terrorist cell inside China, led by Aji Mai Mai Ti, carried out tests on poisonous meat, poisonous gas and remote explosive devices as part of their plans, the ministry said.

The group also planned to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and Olympic athletes "to make influences on international communities to undermine the Beijing Olympics," the ministry said.

Bequelin noted that China "very conveniently" blames the East Turkestan Islamic Movement Organization, or ETIM, for the alleged militant activity in Xinjiang without providing any proof.

"There is a lot of skepticism of whether ETIM actually exists," he said. "We know it existed at some point in the early '90s."

He raised concerns at a report released this week from China state-controlled media that Chinese police shot and killed five "holy war militants" in Xinjiang's capital, Urumxi.

"The description was that there were 15 people ... in a room, armed only with knives, (and) police had no other choice (but) to shoot," Bequelin said. "It's highly suspect because it looks more like a botched police operation."


He said that HRW is not discounting the possibility of radical Islamist groups in Xinjiang, but noted that "very clearly we have to take with a pinch of salt China's claims of real terrorist groups targeting the Olympics."

"What the government appears to be doing is to conflate terrorism with criminal acts and other cases of dissent," he said. "But there is no evidence any kind of organization or militant activity in Xinjiang."

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