(Radio Free Asia) A number of ethnic Uyghur Muslims have trained and fought with Islamic insurgents battling the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in the hope of using their experience to fight Beijing’s rule of their homeland in China’s far western Xinjiang region.
But as Assad reverses rebel gains and the Islamic State jihadist group loses its final territory in Syria, the Uyghur fighters have returned to their exile home in Turkey, disillusioned that they had been duped by their handlers about staging a revolt in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), an RFA probe has revealed. […]
Sean Roberts, director of George Washington University’s International Development Studies Program, told RFA that Uyghurs he had interviewed in Turkey suggested that their motivation for joining fighters in Syria was to “get combat experience and then use it to start an insurgency in China.”
“The thing that’s interesting about these people is they all tend to have left China after the Urumqi riots in 2009 and the subsequent crackdown in the region over the next few years,” he said.
“That was a real turning point between Uyghurs and the Chinese state, and also culminated in the life imprisonment of [outspoken Uyghur professor] Ilham Tohti, and basically created a situation in which I think most Uyghurs felt there was no peaceful way to engage the Chinese government on their discontent with the situation.”
Roberts, an expert in Uyghur language and culture, said the situation in the XUAR had led to a kind of “self-fulfilling prophecy of Uyghur militancy.” […]
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