On December 4, 2020, the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) on its website, Muhsinlar, issued two statements that were dedicated to its removal from the terrorist list by the US a month ago. The first statement was on behalf of the Central Office of the Turkestan Islamic Party. The second statement was issued on behalf of the TIP’s Syrian branch. Despite the similar content of both statements, each of them should be analyzed separately, since they conceal the motives and goals of the Uighur resistance against the repressive policies of communist China, as well as their views on Islamic jihad in general.
How Uighur Jihadists became a bone of contention between the US and China?
It is worth noting, exactly one month earlier, on November 5, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the removal of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party, from the Terrorist Exclusion List in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). “ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist,” a State Department spokesperson said. As is known, ETIM was designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1390 on 11 September 2002 for its alleged association with al Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. As part of the “global war on terror”, on Aug. 19, 2002, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage designated ETIM as a terrorist organization in a similar manner. At that time, China skillfully took advantage of the situation after the 9/11 attacks and achieved recognition of ETIM as a terrorist group by many members of the US-led “war on terror”.
Predictably, the Trump Administration’s decision to remove ETIM from the blacklist has provoked a panic reaction from official Beijing, which is pursuing a harsh repressive policy against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang region, detaining more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz in the so-called “re-education camps”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry angrily criticized the US for delisting ETIM from its list of terrorist organizations, saying it reflected Washington’s “double standards” on fighting global terrorism. However, the Washington-based Uighur Human Rights Project (UHRP), which is the voice of millions of destitute Uighurs around the world, strongly supported the State Department’s decision calling it “long overdue” and a “definitive rejection of China’s claims”. UHRP also called on the UN “to remove ETIM from its Consolidated List through a formal delisting process.”
The first statement of the TIP’s Central Office
The first statement was made on behalf of the Central Office of Turkestan Islamic Party and is entitled “Appeal to Islamic Ummah and oppressed Muslims of East Turkestan on the occasion of removing our Jamaat from the terrorist list”.
The statement’s authors described the reason for the creation of ETIM as a defensive measure against the tyranny of the “criminal Chinese state”. To make it clearer for readers, we present this entire paragraph: “In our Motherland, East Turkestan, which is a part of the Islamic World, savage atrocities continue by the enemy, the Chinese aggressors. The Chinese Kafirs (infidel) martyred or enslaved Muslims who did not have even a broken iron in their hands. In order to counter this tragic aggression, the Turkestan Islamic Party, led by Hassan Mahsum, formed an armed Islamic Jamaat abroad and set out to take practical action against China. As a result, this Jamaat has been developing sharia, military, political and propaganda activities. The Jamaat acted and is continuing to act this in order to regain their rights in accordance with the will of Allah.”
Then the statement quotes Surah al-Hajj (39) of the Qur’an: “Permission ˹to fight back˺ is ˹hereby˺ granted to those being fought, for they have been wronged. And Allah is truly Most Capable of helping them ˹prevail.”
Further, in its statement, TIP explained the reasons for including the Uighur Salafi-Jihadi group of ETIM on the global terrorist list. According to TIP, this was carried out according to the devious designs of Beijing, which managed to convince the world with false statements “about terrorist acts by the Uighurs.” “In front of our people and the people of the world, the Chinese aggressors tried to present as the terrorist act all our just armed jihad against the Chinese, and in the end, they achieved some results, and under this condition, the East Turkestan Muslims were the victims of misinformation, but this became the reason for the understanding of the world’s peoples about the real face of China”, mentions the statement.
The statement noted the US government’s legitimate actions, which “removed us from the terrorist list, recognizing that they had wrongly put us on the list of terrorists because of fraud by the Chinese side.” “This means that the East Turkestan Muslims’ armed actions against the Chinese aggressors are righteous one from a humanitarian point of view as well”, the statement stated.
The statement underlined the plight of Uighur Muslims in East Turkestan living “under the material and spiritual oppression of the Chinese aggressors.” At the end of the statement, TIP called on Uighur co-religionists around the world “to take part in holy jihad, which frees oppressed people from Chinese tyranny and leads to Islamic freedom, and to support TIP materially and spiritually. At the end of the statement, TIP prayed on Allah Almighty to hasten and succeed in performing the blessed jihad against the Chinese aggressors.
The second statement of the TIP’s Syrian Wing
As we noted above, the Syrian branch of the Turkestan Islamic Party made a separate statement in response to the US government’s decision to remove the ETIM from the global terrorist list. It is worth noting that the content of the two statements and their anti-Chinese ideology are similar. In this regard, we have focused on precisely those thoughts and points in the TIP’s Syrian branch statement that do not echo the previous statement by its parent organization, the TIP’s Central Office.
At the beginning of its statement, the TIP’s Syrian branch noted that following the recent decision by the US government to exclude the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (i.e., Turkestan Islamic Party) from the terrorist list, they are going to act against China as a representative of the Eastern Turkestan Muslims. The statement says, «in this moment when all the people of Turkestan are happy with that decision by the U.S. government, besides thanking our Lord of Allah, we also thank to all the different states and organizations which contributed to make such a decision».
The statement noted that although Uighurs were included in the terrorist list of America and some other countries due to the trickery of the Chinese aggressors, who are enemies of the whole world, TIP with the help of the great Lord and the support of brothers from all parts of the world, continued to fight against the “Chinese enemies” until today.
The TIP’s Syrian branch further claims that they are not terrorists, but fighters for the future of the oppressed Uighur people. Therefore, the American government, making sure that “we are not terrorists, but fighters against oppression, fighters who demand their own true freedom and all human rights, announced the exclusion of us from the terrorist list.”
In this regard, the TIP’s Syrian branch expressed its pleasure with the decision of the US government and hopes that other countries around the world will make a wise decision like the American government and help the oppressed in Turkestan.
In addition, the authors of the statement called on their Uighur brothers and sisters around the world to stand together as one body against China, the “common enemy” of humanity. “Because the Chinese are not only the enemy of the people of Turkestan but also the common enemy of all states”, the TIP’s Syrian branch believes. Jihadists of East Turkestan noted that if before the Uighurs acted separately, now it is time to unite. The TIP’s subsidiary concluded its statement by citing the Holy Book of Islam, in which Allah says that “the believers are but one brotherhood, so make peace between your brothers” (Surah Al-Hujurat, 10, Quran).
It is unsurprising that the US State Department’s decision to de-blacklist ETIM inspired anti-Chinese rhetoric among Uighur jihadists. After that, the press service of TIP and its radio “Islam Avazi” through the Telegram channel began to give clear signals that the Uighur militant group is not conducting and does not intend to conduct jihad against the West. Abu Omar al-Turkistani, one of the TIP warlords in Syria’s Idlib, said, “We are not hostile to either the US or the West. We are hostile to China, which refused to grant us political rights.”
In this situation, it remains unclear whether the TIP leader Abdul Haq al-Turkestani has anything to do with the above two statements. Because, according to the US Treasury Department, he is a US and UN-designated terrorist and has been a member of al Qaeda’s elite Shura Council since 2005. For many decades, Abdul Haq al-Turkistani has been openly loyal to the Taliban’s top leader Haibatullah Akhunzada and the al Qaeda’s emir Ayman al-Zawahiri. Today, all three top emirs are successfully continuing their faithful fellowship in jihad.
It is, however, not expected that following the US government’s decision, the UN and other countries of the post-Soviet space, including Putin’s Russia, will decide to lift the sanctions from ETIM. Particularly, China’s Central Asian neighbors, most notably Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, which have huge debt to Beijing and highly dependent on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), met the news on Uighur jihadists de-blacklist very cautiously and suspicious. Therefore, they will continue to fully support China’s war against three evils: terrorism, extremism, and separatism within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.