China says its nationals have fought for ISIS

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 Activist: Most foreigners in Raqqa don't want to fight

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Story highlights

  • China has linked violence in its far-western Muslim region of Xinjiang to ISIS
  • Top Xinjiang official says Chinese nationals have fought for the extremist group
  • Uyghur activists dispute the assertions, pointing to the lack of evidence

Beijing (CNN)China has linked violence in its far-western Muslim region of Xinjiang to ISIS and says Chinese nationals have fought for the extremist group.

The Communist Party chief of Xinjiang -- the region's top official -- told reporters Tuesday to view mounting violence there in the context of a global jihadist movement, especially with the rise of ISIS -- also known as the Islamic State or IS.
    "Some extremists in Xinjiang have participated in the IS and I think this further proves that intentional extremist forces cannot be ignored," said Zhang Chunxian on the sidelines of the annual session of China's rubber-stamp parliament.
    "As countries around the world have realized the dangers of IS... we will work with others to stop it at its source."
    A spate of violent attacks in Xinjiang -- a resource-rich area long inhabited by the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs -- has killed hundreds of people in the past two years.
    The government has blamed the incidents on Muslim Uyghur separatists seeking to establish an independent state.
    China's state media had earlier reported on Muslim Uyghur militants trying to flee the country and join ISIS training camps in preparation for attacks back home.
    Xinjiang province is in China's far west
    "We cracked some cases involving people who had just returned after directly participating in fighting," Zhang revealed.
    "Such cases sometimes involve 'lone wolves' and other times involve groups."
    "The IS situation is historically unprecedented," he added, addressing criticism on the Xinjiang government's lack of transparency.
    "To solve such cases... to ensure people's safety, we sometimes have to keep things confidential and take our time."
    Exiled Uyghur activists have long disputed the Chinese government's assertions, pointing to the lack of evidence and accusing the authorities of using the alleged ISIS connection to justify their increasingly harsh rule in the region.
    Over the past decades, the arrival in Xinjiang of waves of Han Chinese, the country's predominant ethnic group, has fueled ethnic tensions.
    Amnesty International has said Uyghurs face widespread discrimination in housing, education and employment, as well as curtailed religious freedom.
    Other critics have attributed the rise of violence in Xinjiang to Beijing's repressive reign there -- a claim the government vehemently denies.