Chinese authorities have arrested members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a top Communist official reportedly said Tuesday at the annual meeting of the party’s Central Committee.
The suspected ISIL fighters were arrested after returning to China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, a member of China’s ruling Politburo and Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, was reported as saying in Chinese state media.
Zhang reportedly declined to specify the number or nature of the arrests, or to identify the suspects.
Chinese officials said in December of 2014 that about 300 Chinese nationals were fighting with ISIL.
Human rights activists have called China's reports of security threats in Xinjiang a pretext to quell ethnic tensions in the region, which is the place of origin of the country’s Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority. Xinjiang, which abuts eight countries including Pakistan and resource-rich Kazakhstan, is of strategic importance to China, particularly as Beijing continues to sign multibillion-dollar business deals with those nations that would funnel much-needed oil and gas directly into the region.
Scores of Uighurs suspected of planning or committing attacks on civilians are thought to have died in extrajudicial killings in recent years in Xinjiang. And local authorities have enforced a slew of religious restrictions on the minority group, aimed at combating what the officials call religious extremism. Most recently, rights activists have condemned Chinese officials’ attempts to bar Uighur women from wearing headscarves in Xinjiang’s regional capital of Urumqi and surrounding municipalities.
China has garnered pledges from several of its burgeoning Central Asian business partners — most recently Kazakhstan — to crack down on what Beijing says are Uighur terrorists leaving China to join armed groups, and what rights activists say are Uighur refugees escaping socioeconomic repression.