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terrorism

Al Qaeda is suddenly very interested in China

Over at The Diplomat, Zachary Keck points out that the inaugural issue of al Qaeda's magazine Resurgence contains quite a few references to China. The communist country has been waging a sometimes brutal crackdown against separatists in Xinjiang, a far western region home to the Muslim minority Uighurs — and al Qaeda is suddenly taking note.

In an article titled "10 Facts About East Turkistan," the terrorist group lists a series of grievances and calls for Xinjiang to be "recovered [into] the shade of the Islamic Caliphate," reports the South China Morning Post. Keck notes that while the article "stops [short] of calling for jihad against China, the point is more directly articulated elsewhere" in the issue. It even asks followers to "disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca" to damage China's economy.

So, what's with al Qaeda's sudden interest in China? There has been an uptick in violence in Xinjiang recently — separatists have been blamed for numerous terrorist attacks and the Chinese government has cracked down harshly — but Keck sees another spark: ISIS. The leader of the ascendant terrorist group mentioned China in a speech in July, and ISIS later included Xinjiang in a map of its imagined caliphate.

New attention on China could also foreshadow a broader "pivot to Asia" on al Qaeda's part. The terrorist group established a branch in India in September, which experts interpreted as al Qaeda trying to regain its influence after being eclipsed in the Middle East by ISIS. Does al Qaeda see Xinjiang as a similar opportunity for growth?