Richard Spencer in Beijing for the Daily Telegraph, London
July 25, 2008 - Chinese authorities have foiled a planned terror attack on the Olympic Games as well as a plot to crash an airliner flying to Beijing, it was claimed yesterday.
Beijing announced yesterday that two alleged terrorists were shot dead and 15 others were arrested in January during a raid on a flat in Urumqi, capital of the so-called Xinjiang autonomous region.
Wang Lequan, the regional Communist Party secretary, said it was "obvious" that an attack on the Olympics was being planned.
While police have given no details of who was arrested and what exactly the suspects were doing, they have said the militants were collaborating with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Meanwhile, the jet airliner plot was revealed by Nur Bekri, the governor of Xinjiang and Mr Wang's second-in-command, who claimed that inflammable liquid was discovered on Friday aboard a China Southern flight.
The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Lanzhou and two passengers were arrested, he said.
Both plots were outlined at the annual meeting of China's parliament, the National People's Congress. But no reasons were given as to why they had not been made public earlier.
Xinjiang is the home of the Muslim Uighur minority group, and has a record of anti-Chinese agitation, having briefly declared independence as "East Turkestan" in 1945. Although described as an "autonomous'' region, in fact it is tightly controlled by Beijing.
Uighurs, who are engaged in a low-intensity insurgency to demand an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang province, have been blamed for sporadic incidents of violence although no serious attacks have been reported in China for more than a decade.
A series of bomb attacks in the 1990s was attributed by the Chinese authorities to the shadowy ETIM, which they claim continues to operate in partnership with al-Qa'ida.
US president George Bush put ETIM on a list of terrorist organisations after the September 11 attacks in 2001, allegedly in return for Chinese acquiescence in the 'war on terror'.
Uighur nationalist groups based abroad, however, say there have been no terrorist incidents in recent years and the Chinese are attempting to justify their harsh repression of the region.
In what appeared to be a concerted attack on groups that the Chinese regard as "splittists'', the same parliamentary forum was used to announce that several conspiracies by the "Dalai Lama clique" had been foiled in Tibet over the past five years, but no details were given.
China remains anxious that Tibet support movements will use the Olympics to garner substantial publicity. It continues to insist the exiled Dalai Lama is more than a spiritual leader and is drumming up "separatist tendencies'' among followers.