Newsweek’s Beijing bureau chief Melinda Liu writes on her blog, Countdown to Beijing, about reports of Muslim Uighurs clashing with police in remote Xinjiang:
This is serious indeed, if true. It could represent a perfect storm of trouble in the run-up to the Beijing Games.
Uighur militants had trained in Taliban training camps in Afghanistan. I remember seeing yuan currency and Chinese passports with Uighur names in the debris of one of Osama bin Laden’s farms in Jalalabad right after the Taliban fell. Moreover Uighurs captured by U.S.-led troops wound up behind bars in Guantanamo Bay. (However the question of whether the banned East Turkestan Independence Movement is as an organization—as opposed to Uighur individuals—in thrall to bin Laden, as Beijing authorities allege, remains a topic of debate.)
Over the past decade, Uighurs are reported to have engaged in bombings, assassinations, and hijackings inside China to promote their separatist cause. As recently as last month, Chinese officials announced they’d foiled a terrorist plot to blow up an aircraft, an act that they said was part of a conspiracy to sabotage the Olympics. At the moment it’s impossible to confirm independently the extent of reported unrest in Xinjiang. The two locations identified below are deep in Central Asia not far from the frontier with Pakistan and Afghanistan. So far the most detailed report is this dispatch from Radio Free Asia:
Update: Here’s a report from AP.