WASHINGTON (AFP) — A Chinese Muslim separatist group's threats to launch attacks during the Beijing Olympics are credible, a US expert said Saturday, after the group claimed credit for several recent bus bombings in China.
Although Chinese officials earlier Saturday denied that the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) was behind the bus bombings in Shanghai, IntelCenter director Ben Venzke pointed to a TIP video showing how to make a truck bomb as evidence that the group has the capacity for serious attacks.
"At this point in time we believe that, based on the TIP's demonstrated ability to conduct bombings and the apparent opportunity TIP believes the Olympic Games presents in terms of targeting and striking a blow to China, that the threat is credible and should be taken seriously," Venzke said.
Venzke, whose company monitors extremist threats around the world for private clients, on Friday released a transcript of TIP's latest video claiming credit for a pair of bus blasts that killed two people Monday in Yunnan province, and a bus explosion in Shanghai in May that killed three.
Chinese officials quickly rejected the claim, denying that TIP, an ethnic Uighur group which seeks to break off part of China's heavily Muslim Xinjiang province into an independent East Turkestan homeland, had caused the explosions.
"We have noticed media reports about the claims, but so far no evidence has been found to indicate the explosions were connected with terrorists and their attacks, or with the Beijing Olympics," a Yunnan public security official was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
"The (May 5) blast was indeed deliberate but had nothing to do with terrorist attacks," Cheng Jiulong, deputy head of Shanghai police, told Xinhua.
But Venzke says the threat is likely real.
"Questions remain as to exactly what the TIP capabilities are in the eight cities they have threatened and whether the group has the ability to conduct a sustained campaign during the Games or one or two large-scale attacks."
According to global intelligence analysts Stratfor, TIP is another name for the ethnic Uighur Islamic Party of East Turkestan (ETIM), a group labelled a terrorist organization by both the United States and China.
In the video released this week and dated July 23, TIP leader Commander Seyfullah warned China of more explosions to come.
"Our aim is to target the most critical points related to the Olympics. We will try to attack Chinese central cities severely using the tactics that have never been employed," he continued.
"While Seyfullah's claims appear greater than reality, they cannot be entirely dismissed, nor can the potential for further transportation infrastructure attacks against China," Stratfor said in an analysis on its website.
TIP's video says the group is willing to use biological weapons in an attack, and Venzke said that specific threat cannot be discounted. But, he added, TIP so far lacks a "demonstrated capability" to use biological weapons.
IntelCenter said it had a video made by TIP showing how to wire a truck with a bomb and another showing a suicide bomber preparing for an attack.
Venzke also noted that senior Al-Qaeda figure Ayman al-Zawahiri has made reference several times to the Uighurs' fight for an East Turkestan homeland
"While not yet on the level of attention focused on places like Somalia, Sudan, Algeria and other major theaters, al-Zawahiri's references do firmly place the jihadi efforts in East Turkistan in the mix of important jihadi fronts," Venzke said.
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