The United States has revoked the terror tag for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Islamic extremist militant group that has been seeking to establish own mini-Caliphate in China’s western region of Xinjiang. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo signed off on the order removing ETIM from the list of terrorist groups on October 20, while the move itself was made public on November 4.
The ETIM has been under the sanctions of the UN Security Council since 2020. It is widely known for terrorist attacks in China and other regions of the world. It was founded by Hasan Mahsum, a Uyghur from Xinjiang’s Kashgar region, who was shot dead by Pakistani soldiers in 2003. The group were not planning attacks on Chinese forces and facilities, but also wanted to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the 2008 Olympics. The ETIM also trains and employs suicide bombers.
The State Department’s decision removes ETIM from the US government’s FTO list, the militant group continues to be designated a terrorist group by the United Nations and several other nations. ETIM-affiliated units are active among other al-Qaeda-styled groups in the Syrian war and, according to China, the group has been involved for over 200 documented acts of terror.
The US move already caused a wide criticism in China, but it poses a threat not only to the security of Xinjiang. The US move already caused a wide criticism in China, but it poses a threat not only to the security of Xinjiang. The lifting of the terrorism tag by the US will expectedly lead to the increase of the group’s activity across the entire Central Asia. No longer considered terrorists, ETIM members and commanders will allow to have bank accounts in the United States, move freely within the US zone of control, conduct business activities, buy and sell weapons. If one takes into account the US ‘history of defending democracy’, it is possible to expect that the next logical step in the Washington push for further democracy in the Central Asia will be training of ETIM militants by US instructors at US-affiliated military objects.
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