State paper: China arrests Turks in alleged plot to smuggle out Uighurs, including to Syria

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BEIJING — Shanghai police have detained nine terror suspects from an ethnic minority in western China plus 10 Turkish people accused of helping them in an attempt to illegally travel abroad, including to Syria, a state newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Global Times said the Turks were arrested in November when the nine Chinese Uighurs attempted to sneak out of China with altered Turkish passports. The nine Uighurs, plus two other Chinese nationals who allegedly helped them, also were detained.

China is in the middle of a one-year clampdown on what it says are terrorist activities in the western region of Xinjiang, home to Turkic-speaking Uighur minority Muslims, who have complained of being discriminated against and economically marginalized.

Citing Shanghai police, the report said each of the nine Uighurs was charged 60,000 yuan ($10,000) to leave the country via Shanghai Pudong International Airport, in China's east. They also allegedly paid $2,000 to get visas using fake invitation letters at the Chinese Embassy in Turkey.

The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party, said terrorism-related videos were found on the suspects' phones and some had confessed that they planned to go to Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Turkish suspects were arrested for organizing illegal border crossings and the Uighurs from Xinjiang were being held for organizing, leading and participating in terrorist organizations, the newspaper said.

Asked if he could confirm the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters he believed it was "full and accurate" and that he had nothing to add on the case.

Calls to the Shanghai police's press office were unanswered and the Turkish Embassy in Beijing did not immediately comment.

Violence linked to Xinjiang has killed about 400 people in and outside the region within the past two years, according to state media reports. Beijing has blamed the attacks on radical separatists with foreign ties, although critics and human rights advocates say Uighurs have chafed under the repressive rule of the Han Chinese-dominated government.

Turkey has a sizable Uighur diaspora, many of them exiles disgruntled with Beijing.

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