Terrorism | Experts Split on Threat of Terrorism at Beijing Olympics

7 08 2008

Terrorism | Experts Split on Threat of Terrorism at Beijing Olympics

Source: DW

A deadly mortar attack in northwestern China has stirred up fear of attacks during the Olympic Games in Beijing. However, whether the Games are really in danger is a highly disputed matter.

According to Chinese authorities, the attack in the Muslim region of Xinjiang, which killed 16 police officers on Monday, Aug. 4, was carried out by terrorists. This is the second attack of this kind in Xinjiang in the past two weeks. Now the question is: How concerned should the world be of an attack during the Olympics.

Terrorism is the biggest threat during the Games, Rohan Gunaratna, one of Singapore’s most prominent terrorism experts, told the Chinese daily Straits Times.

Head of the the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Nanyang Technological University, Gunaratna said the Olympic Security Committee categorizes al Qaeda, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Tibetan separatists and the Falun Gong sects as threats.

Gunaratna said he believes the ETIM poses the biggest threat. That group was blamed for Monday’s attack by the China Daily newspaper.

The Beijing fortress

A map showing the location of Kashgar in China.Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: The attack took place in the most western reaches of the country

Other political observers warned against lapsing into panic or dramatizing the danger to the Games in Beijing.

The Chinese capital can be compared to a fortress, and that the danger of an attack is therefore remote, according to East Asian expert Xuewu Gu. Xuewu added that the most dangerous groups are not in a position to stage an attack in Beijing because they are being forced to deal with the police outside the capital.

State in a state

Martin Wagener, an expert on violence in East Asia at Trier University, called Beijing a “true security state.”

Chinese police officers march in front of the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Around 110,000 police officers and 34,000 soldiers have been enlisted to work security

The government has put 34,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army along with 110,000 police officers in place for security, Wagener said his research has shown. They will be backed up by fighter jets, helicopters and ships. There have also been some 300,000 security cameras installed, and up to 1.4 million people have reportedly volunteered to make sure nothing goes wrong.

“It will be very difficult to smuggle any sort of explosives into Beijing,” said Wagener.

The attack in Kashgar is not an uncommon occurrence. For years there have been both small and large attacks against the police and government buildings. Until now, however, they have not been reported on outside the country.

Xuewu said he expects the attacks to continue after the Olympics, because the groups’ causes will not fade away as international media leave China after the Games.

“Just the opposite,” he said. “There will still be problems because the injustice in China will just get bigger, and the relationship between the central government and the minorities will get worse.”

Selective disinformation

Wagener said he believes it is possible that the central government in Beijing has instrumented accidents, like the one in Kashgar, in order to justify their giant security apparatus.

When the Games are over they are likely to use it for other purposes, such as controlling separatist in Xinjiang, Tibet protesters, and the religious Falun Gong sects, Wagener said.

“This seems to be the central concern for the authorities,” he added.

Police pointing at a photographer taking photos of the attack site in Kashgar.Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Local police tried to keep the story from getting out

The Chinese government seems to be carrying out a campaign of selective disinformation of the public. At least that’s what actions in Kashgar are pointing to. According to one reporter from AFP, independent reports of the attack were difficult to come by. The local authorities blocked Internet access on the day of the attack. The police tried to prohibit any news of the attack getting out, and even broke into the hotel room of an AFP photographer and forced him to delete photos of the attack site.

Two Japanese journalists, who wanted to report on the attack, were momentarily detained according to the Associated Press. Reporter Shinji Katsuta said that he was hit multiple times in the face. Authorities apologized later for the incident.

Martin Schrader (mrm)

With less than two weeks to go before the Olympics open in Beijing, the Chinese government is facing the horrendous possibility of terrorist attacks a

29 07 2008

Beijing reacts quickly to claims by the Turkistan Islamic Party taking responsibility for recent attacks and threatening more during the Games

https://i1.wp.com/images.businessweek.com/story/08/600/0728_tiananmen_square.jpgChinese policemen stand guard on the Tiananmen Square on July 28, 2008 in Beijing, China. The Chinese authorities have tightened security with over 100,000 police, professional and volunteer security guards. The Beijing Olympic Games start on August 8. ANDREW WONG/Getty Images

With less than two weeks to go before the Olympics open in Beijing, the Chinese government is facing the horrendous possibility of terrorist attacks aimed at the Games. On July 23 an apparent terrorist group released a video taking responsibility for bus bomb blasts a few days before in the southwestern city of Kunming that killed two people. The group also claimed as its own another attack in Shanghai that killed three people in May.

In the video, the group calling itself the Turkistan Islamic Party (BusinessWeek.com, 3/17/08), apparently a Uighur Muslim separatist organization pushing for independence for China’s far western region of Xinjiang, threatened more attacks, including during the Beijing Games that run from Aug. 8-24. “Our aim is to target the most critical points related to the Olympics. We will try to attack Chinese central cities severely using the tactics that have never been employed,” said Seyfullah, the purported commander of the group, according to a translation by the Washington (D.C.)-based terrorism analyst organization IntelCenter.

The government has reacted quickly with reports in the state-controlled press denying the blasts were Olympics-related. “So far, no evidence has been found to indicate the explosions were connected with terrorists and their attacks, or with the Beijing Olympics,” a Yunnan public security official said on July 26, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua. “The blast was indeed deliberate but had nothing to do with terrorist attacks,” added a second official from Shanghai in the same report.

Missiles Defend Olympic Venues

That may be the official stance, but there is no denying that Beijing now views the security of the Games as its paramount concern. China’s efforts—ranging from putting surface-to-air missiles around Olympic venues such as the Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatics center, to the planned closure of Beijing’s international airport during the opening ceremony—are turning this year’s Olympics into the most security-focused Games in history. “A safe Olympics is the premise for a first-class Games with Chinese characteristics. Safety is our top concern here,” the state press reported Vice-President Xi Jinping saying while touring Olympic facilities on July 21.

To ensure security, Beijing already held a series of anti-terrorist drills in June aimed at dealing with possible bomb or chemical attacks, as well as attempts to kidnap athletes. Now the capital is preparing to deploy more than 100,000 police, army troops, and volunteers around the capital. Police checkpoints have been set up along major roads to check identity cards for those trying to enter Beijing. Armed police with bomb-sniffing dogs now patrol the city’s railway and subway stations. An additional 2,000 security guards as well as 200 X-ray machines are in the capital’s 93 subway stations to watch for guns, knives, and explosive or flammable liquids.

Meanwhile, Beijing has placed 300,000 surveillance cameras throughout the capital to monitor any suspicious activities. Access to all Olympics venues is being screened, with everything from standard metal detectors to technology for fingerprint and iris scanning. China will spend a record $6.5 billion on surveillance equipment. That compares with the $1.4 billion spent in Athens for the 2004 Games, according to the Alexandria (Va.)-based Security Industry Assn.

Closed Political System Has Greater Control

“All work related to Olympic security is in full swing and security personnel and equipment are all in place,” said Liu Shaowu, director of security for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games Security Dept. on July 23. “Beijing is confident of dealing with any kind of security threat and will present the world a safe and peaceful Olympics.”

Despite the recent attacks, security experts believe the Chinese government is well-positioned to thwart terrorist threats to the Games. “In a country such as China with a relatively closed political system, they probably are somewhat better prepared when it comes to security than in a more open country like the U.S.,” notes Harvey Schiller, the CEO of New York-based risk management consultancy GlobalOptions Group. “I suspect they have some advantages in securing security,” adds Schiller, who formerly served as the executive director and secretary general of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Roberts is BusinessWeek‘s Asia News Editor and China bureau chief.