China Tightens Security as Olympics Near

By Laura Spadanuta

The Olympic Games are set to open on Friday in Beijing, and security concerns are increasing this week after a spate of attacks in China.

Monday brought the ambush of a police unit in China's majority Muslim Northwest area which killed 16 officers and wounded 16 others, accordingto the International Herald Tribune.  That would make it "the worst eruption of ethnic violence on Chinese soil since the early 1990s, when China blamed Muslim separatists for a spate of violent attacks."

Although Chinese officials say the Olympics will be safe, they warn "that terrorism is a constant threat, particularly from Muslim separatist groups in the Xinjiang region of western China," according to the Times.  Officials believe that Monday's attack was undertaken by a "murky separatist movement seeking independence for the Uighur minority, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who dominate the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," according to the International Herald Tribune (IHT). 

Details were reported by Xinhua, the official news agency, and could not be independently verified Monday.  According to those accounts, two men driving a dump truck rammed their vehicle into the jogging soldiers, killing or wounding 10. The attackers jumped out of the truck, stabbing the soldiers with knives, and then lobbed homemade bombs at the barracks, although they exploded outside the compound, Xinhua said. The police arrested the attackers, whom they described as Uighurs, 28 and 33 years old, but did not release their names.  Xinhua said the arm of one man was badly wounded when an explosive device detonated in his hand. The police later discovered 10 more such devices and what it described as a "home-made gun" in the dump truck.

China has been cracking down on this and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which officials there have cited as a threat to the Olympics.  They have been publicizing certain terror-related executions and arrests, such as the arrest of three individuals who were reportedly planning to crash a Beijing-bound plane.

Some are skeptical of the terror threat from the groups named by Chinese officials, especially since the news is mainly coming from China's official news agency, Xinhua.  IHT reports that "Yitzhak Shichor, a professor of East Asian studies at the University of Haifa in Israel who specializes in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, voiced doubt that the attack Monday in Kashgar had been an act of terrorism. He said he thought the government was trying to continue its vilification of the group, which, if it exists at all, does not have the manpower or weaponry to carry out a sophisticated attack. 'I am very skeptical of this kind of information that comes only from Chinese sources,' he said."

Additionally, some experts are expressing doubt that terrorists will be able to attack Beijing.  A separate IHT article states:  "Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, also considers ETIM the biggest threat. 'During the Olympics, I believe it's very difficult for them to attack Beijing,' he said. 'They'll likely attack outside Beijing.'"

China is implementing new security measures including the ramping up of security in places where Muslims may gather, such as mosques and Muslim restaurants.

Security Management's Senior Editor John Barham, who went to China earlier this summer to talk with company security directors and others about preparations leading up to the Olympics, writes more broadly of government and private industry efforts to secure the games in his piece "Let the Games Begin--and End--Securely."




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