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For China, far west is rife with terror plots

Authorities blocked an Afghan plane from landing Sunday in Xinjiang, a predominantly Uighur region. They cited a bomb threat, but none was found.

In this photo released by China's official Xinhua news agency, passengers walk in Urumqi airport, northwest China's Xinjiang autonomous region, early Monday, after the airport was restored to order.

Sadat/ Xinhua/ AP

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A bomb threat that forced a civilian plane to turn back Sunday on a flight from Afghanistan to western China is the latest in a series of alleged terror plots in restless Xinjiang province.

Authorities have offered no clear explanation of why the Boeing 767 carrying 168 passengers was denied permission to land in Urumqi, the city that erupted in ethnic rioting on July 5 killing nearly 200 people. No bomb was discovered, and the Afghan-operated plane successfully flew the same route on Monday.

With tensions still running high in Urumqi, the incident is a reminder of what China calls the threat of terrorism from groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. In 2002, the US State Department listed ETIM as a terrorist organization after China blamed it for scores of violent attacks in the previous decade.

But China's eagerness to label any opposition group in the traditionally Muslim province as separatists or terrorists – the words are used interchangeably – has muddied the picture. Foreign experts are doubtful that ETIM or other groups are capable of mounting terror attacks and argue that most antigovernment violence is haphazard.


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