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China Says It Breaks Up 'Terrorist' Cell In Xinjiang

China's Xinjiang Province

China's Xinjiang Province

BEIJING (Reuters) -- Chinese security forces have broken up a "terrorist" cell in the restive far western region of Xinjiang, an official said, nearly a year after ethnic violence in the regional capital left around 200 dead.

Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping told a brief news conference that more than 10 members of a "terrorist" group had been rounded up who were planning attacks across Xinjiang, and explosives, knives, and other equipment seized.

"The breaking up of this large terrorist group once again proves that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement is the major terror threat facing China at present and henceforward," Wu said.

Exile groups and many Uyghurs, a Muslin people native to the region, refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan. Energy-rich Xinjiang is strategically located on China's borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several Central Asian states.

Wu identified the two ringleaders as Abudourexiti Abulaiti, 42, and Yiming Semaier, 33.

"China's public security bodies will resolutely support and put into effect UN Security Council resolutions, will strike severely against terrorist activities, and earnestly maintain social stability," Wu added. He did not take questions.

The group had been planning a series of attacks in the Xinjiang cities of Kashgar, Hotan, and Aksu, but their plans were thwarted and some of them fled, Wu said, reading from a prepared statement.

But Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said the timing of the announcement was suspicious, coming so soon before the one-year anniversary of violent unrest in Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi.

"China has a political motive in choosing the period before the July 5 anniversary to publicize this. The purpose is to raise pressure on Uyghurs," he said by telephone.

"The evidence given by the Chinese is all one-sided, with no independent verification and no credible proof," he added.