A Uighur terrorist from a videotape released by the Turkistan Islamic Party in 2008.
The Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda affiliate that operates in Central and South Asia, has identified a senior member of the group who was killed in a US airstrike last year in northwestern Afghanistan.
The Islamic Turkistan Magazine, which is published by the Turkistan Islamic Party, published a martyrdom statement announcing the death of Shaykh Qurban Ata, a Chinese Uighur who was killed in February 2010. The martyrdom statement was distributed to jihadist websites by the Al Fajr Media Center, an official outlet for al Qaeda propaganda.
Ata was among 15 members of the Turkistan Islamic Party killed in the Feb. 17, 2010 airstrike in Badghis province in northwestern Afghanistan. Four days later, the Turkistan Islamic Party announced that 15 of its members, including 13 Uighurs and two Turks, were killed during an airstrike on a terrorist “camp” in Afghanistan.
Ata, who was from Ghulja in China’s Xinjiang province, was 71 when killed. He had a “hatred of the nonbelievers” and had long expressed a “desire for jihad,” the statement read. He had traveled to Pakistan in the 1990s, and upon his return home, he recruited young Chinese to wage jihad.
Just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US, Ata traveled to Afghanistan. Once there, he “answered the call of jihad and fought the Crusaders in Afghanistan” for nine years until he was killed.
According to the statement, Ata’s wife was among a group of 16 women and children and two terrorists who were killed by Afghan soldiers on July 16, 2005. The Taliban and other terrorist groups often travel and live with their families. Yusuf, Ata’s son, was also killed on an unspecified date in Afghanistan.
Background on the Turkistan Islamic Party and its links to al Qaeda
The Turkistan Islamic Party, which is also known as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party or Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, operates primarily in China’s western province of Xinjiang as well as in the Central Asian republics. The terror group seeks to establish an Islamic state in the region.
The Turkistan Islamic Party has training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is known to operate in both countries. Its followers fight alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda. A “group of hundreds of militants” from the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party is said to be in the region, US intelligence officials told The Christian Science Monitor last year.
The Turkistan Islamic Party has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States, China, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan.
Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the former leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party, was closely linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Haq was killed in a February 2010 US Predator airstrike in the Mir Ali area of Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Abdul Shakoor is said to have taken control of the terror group after Haq’s death.
Haq, who was also known as Maimaitiming Maimaiti, became the leader of the terror group in late 2003 after Hassan Mahsum, the group’s previous leader, was also killed in Waziristan, Pakistan. Haq was appointed a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive leader council, in 2005, according to the US Treasury Department, which designated him as a global terrorist in April 2009. The United Nations also designated Haq as a terrorist leader.
Haq was considered influential enough in al Qaeda’s leadership circles that he was dispatched to mediate between rival Taliban groups as well as to represent the Shura Majlis in important military matters. In June 2009, Haq was spotted in Pakistan’s tribal areas attending an important meeting with Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s overall Taliban commander, who was killed in a US airstrike two months later. Haq and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to discuss the Pakistani military’s operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the deadly Haqqani Network; and Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda ideologue and propagandist.
The Treasury Department said Haq has sent operatives abroad to raise funds for attacks against Chinese interests both at home and abroad. He also was involved in the planning and execution of terror attacks, recruiting, and propaganda efforts. In early 2008, Haq openly threatened to conduct attacks at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Haq ran a training camp for his recruits at al Qaeda’s camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province prior to the US invasion in October 2001 [see LWJ report, The Uighurs in their own words]. He later reestablished camps for the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Although the Chinese government has pressured Pakistan to dismantle the camps, they are said to be still in operation.