Thousands of residents of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province of China--most of them Han Chinese but also including some Uighurs working for the government-- took to the streets in different parts of the capital on September 3, 2009, to protest against the failure of the security authorities to stop mysterious attacks with hypodermic syringe needles on the back which have been taking place in different parts of the city since August 17, 2009, and arrest those responsible. Ultimately, the crowds dispersed when the local authorities appealed to them to go home.
There have so far been no reports of any fatalities due to these syringe attacks, which seem to have caused only minor injuries to the persons--some of them school-going Han children-- attacked. There is no reason to suspect the use of poison at the tip of the needles.
The repeated attacks with the syringe needles have been accompanied by isolated incidents of stabbing of Han Chinese as well as Uighurs working for the local government. There is considerable panic in the city.
There is spreading anger amongst the Han residents of Urumqi not only against the local authorities, but also against Beijing for failing to ensure the security of the people since the anti-Han riots of July 5/6. They allege that there has been no improvement in the security situation even after the visit to Xinjiang towards the end of last month by President Hu Jintao to discuss with the local authorities measures for stepping up security and for protecting the Hans from attacks by the Uighurs.
Even though the local authorities claim to have arrested over 20 persons in connection with these mysterious incidents, the attacks continue to take place. Many parents have not been sending their children to schools due to fear of their being attacked.
While the authorities seem to be clueless as to who are behind these attacks, local sources suspect that the pro-Al Qaeda Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan (IMET), which operates from North Waziristan in Pakistan, is behind these attacks. This seems to be a new modus operandi being used by Al Qaeda elements in Xinjiang, which brings to mind a similar MO which was being used by the Bulgarian intelligence agencies, when Bulgaria was under communist rule, to get rid of anti-communist political dissidents, who had taken shelter in West Europe.
People are nervous that the persons behind these mysterious attacks might start using poison at the tip of the needles in order to cause fatalities. These attacks started a few days before the Muslim holy fasting period of Ramadan began and are continuing during the fasting period.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai,. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.