With all the recent attention focused on where and how to release Guantanamo Bay detainees, the case of 17 imprisoned Uyghurs has grabbed headlines again. Massachusetts Democratic Congressmen Jim McGovern and Bill Delahunt think that at least some of these Uyghurs should be resettled right here in the United States (U.S.), maybe even in the Virginia suburbs. Speaking in late May 2009 at a world assembly of Uyghurs at the U.S. Capitol, Delahunt offered some reassuring words: "The Uyghur people are not enemies of America. In fact, I know you admire our fundamental ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…." How quaint. And how dangerously wrong.
The Uyghurs held at GITMO were captured while fleeing a terror training camp in eastern Afghanistan that was run by the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a splinter faction of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). ETIM is listed as a terrorist organization by the governments of the People's Republic of China (PRC), Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and the U.S., as well as the United Nations. The TIP may also be another name for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Islamic terrorist group opposed to the secular regime of Uzbekistan President Islom Karimov and dedicated to the establishment of Islamic rule there and across Central Asia. Heavily suppressed in Uzbekistan, the IMU may have been eradicated inside that country, but its fighters have surfaced in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere. Many of them joined the Taliban in Afghanistan pre-2001 and remain a presence in terrorist training camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
These groups – TIP, ETIM, and the IMU – include Uyghur Muslims from western regions of China, especially the province of XinJiang, who are sworn to wage Jihad against the Chinese government and have carried out scattered bombing and shooting attacks. There are about 8 million Uyghurs, a Turkic people whose culture, ethnicity, and language are similar to those of neighbors in the Central Asian republics. Not all Uyghurs support the violent agenda of the Jihadis. But for those who do, their objective is to separate from China and form their own independent Islamic state called East Turkestan, which would be ruled by Shari'a law. Prior to the summer 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, TIP Commander Seyfullah released a video entitled "Our Blessed Jihad in Yunnan" in which he issued orders for "severely attacking all central cities in inner China, ask our merciful Allah to allow these brothers and sisters to deal a fatal blow in this Jihad against Chinese and we ask our merciful Allah to completely stop Olympic Games….Bomb Chinese government buildings, venues, tourist spots and similar places….You're even permitted to use biological weapons this time."
Repressive as the PRC communist regime undeniably is, in this case, Beijing faces the same enemy as all of Dar al-Harb, including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Western Europe, and the U.S. That enemy is Islamic Jihad. The Uyghur fighters at GITMO and their comrades from the terror training camps of Afghanistan and Pakistan are Jihadis – this means they share a common purpose to use military means to impose the harsh strictures of Shari'a wherever they can. New footage of a terrorist training camp in Pakistan run by the Uyghur group, TIP, was released in April 2009. In this video, called "Persistence and Preparation for Jihad in the Cause of Allah", are clips of "mujahedeen brothers" blowing up U.S. military Humvees. According to a SITE Intelligence Group translation, the narrator says Uyghur Jihadis "will cause China to experience what America experienced in Iraq and in Afghanistan." The video may be viewed on the NEFA Foundation website.
In March 2009, the TIP published a journal called the Turkistan al-Muslimah (Muslim Turkistan) on a Jihadi web forum (muslm.net). Earlier issues were published by Jihadi websites affiliated with al-Qa'eda. In addition to complaints about Chinese government discrimination against the Turkic Uyghur Muslims of China, the journal also includes in each issue an obituary for a mujahid killed by Chinese forces, essays on Salafi theological topics, and news about Jihadi operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A special section is devoted to the sayings of Hasan Makhdoom (aka Abu Muhammad al-Turkistani, the ETIM leader killed by Pakistani security services in 2003. In general, the language and tone of the journal are indistinguishable from those used by countless al-Qa'eda affiliates across the Internet.
Both the U.S. Department of State and the Chinese government believe that ETIM maintains ties to al Qaeda. The State Department says ETIM has received "training and funding" from the al Qaeda network and that ETIM members fought against U.S. troops in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (post 9/11). Two ETIM members were deported to China from Kyrgyzstan in 2002 for allegedly plotting attacks against the U.S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. The IMU, known as the Islamic Party of Turkestan (IPT) after 2001, comprises a coalition of Jihadis drawn from across the Central Asian Republics and is known to be a close affiliate of al Qaeda. The TIP, which shares the IPT goal of creating an Islamic state across Central Asia, is thought to be an affiliate as well. Al Qaeda's number two deputy to Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has mentioned the Uyghurs a total of five times in his tapes since 2005, according to the counterterrorist organization, IntelCenter. In a February 2009 rant, al-Zawahiri criticized the UN for placing the TIP on its list of designated terror groups.
This welter of group names and affiliations can be confusing: it's meant to be. Terrorist groups routinely form, splinter, and re-form under different names. Sometimes it's just internal group dynamics at play and sometimes it's a deliberate effort to confuse and deceive. The way to keep it all straight is to listen and read what they say. If they call for imposition of Shari'a law, they are Jihadis. Jihadis would like to replace the U.S. Constitution with Shari'a law, too.
An inter-agency panel comprised of all the U.S. national security agencies convened in early 2009 by the White House to review the status of all GITMO detainees clearly "gets it" about these GITMO Uyghurs and deemed them too dangerous to release. So does FBI Director Robert Mueller, who publicly declared it would be risky to relocate GITMO prisoners to U.S. facilities. In a move that took many by surprise, the House and Senate both have denied President Obama's request for $81 million to close Guantanamo without a detailed plan about where the detainees would go.
But the White House, some in Congress, and others in our policymaking leadership continue to allow themselves to be toyed with by the international Islamic Jihad movement. Jed Babbin, writing in Human Events on April 20, 2009, said that Defense Department sources report "the White House legal office has told the inter-agency review group to re-do their findings" to come up with a finding that the GITMO Uyghur Jihadis pose no danger if released into the U.S. A federal court had ordered their release in October 2008, but an appeals court overturned that decision. Since that point, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been coy in public statements, saying only that "some of the GITMO inmates" may be released into the U.S. In his speech at the National Archives on 22 May 2009, President Obama mounted a strident defense of his plan to close GITMO, denounced opposition to the closure as "fear-mongering," and touted American values that he says would make the country safer.
Let's be very clear: the first responsibility of the President of the United States is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Forcible imposition of Shari'a law is utterly antithetical to that oath – and yet that is exactly what the GITMO Jihadis, Uyghurs included, are sworn to accomplish. Moving them to a prison on American soil, even a super max facility, is no answer: as the FBI bust in the Bronx synagogue bombing plot of four American converts to Islamic Jihad demonstrates, U.S. prisons are places where Jihad is preached and learned. Send any of the GITMO Jihadis to a U.S. prison and they will be greeted as rock stars – and immediately set about proselytizing fellow inmates.
But set them loose on the streets of Alexandria, Virginia or Washington, D.C.? Sheer folly, as a growing chorus of Congressional leaders, including Virginia Senator Jim Webb, is now beginning to realize. The GITMO Uyghurs are Jihadis. This is one of those instances in which NIMBY makes perfect sense.