China captures 553 extremists, stops 132 from crossing border in Yunnan

Police in Yunnan province have thwarted 132 attempts and captured 553 extremists who tried to cross the border and travel to war zones overseas since 2014, the provincial publicity department said on Thursday.

As of June, police have captured 35 people who planned to illegally cross the border and participate in the Syrian conflict, and shot and killed four terrorists during the process, Dong Jialu, deputy head of the Yunnan Provincial Public Security Department, said at a news conference.

"The police investigation found that the attempts to illegally cross the border were largely coordinated by forces overseas as they colluded with the organizers in and out of the country to spread extremist thoughts and entice them to join the fight in Syria," he said.

The police also rescued 217 minors who were coerced into making the attempt and detained 161 drivers who helped the extremists.

Between April last year and January, police in the four border regions discovered more than 260 cases of illegal cross-border activity and arrested more than 350 people suspected of organising the crossings, along with 852 people who were attempting to enter another country illegally, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

China faces a growing threat from terrorism, especially from extremists who have participated in the Syrian conflict but have now returned and are planning domestic attacks, an official from the Department of Counterterrorism at the Public Security Ministry said.

The ministry said about 300 Chinese extremists have fought in Syria, and although most are members of the Syrian branch of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, a small number have joined other terrorist and extremist organisations.

Yunnan, which has a border of more than 4,060 kilometers, has been seen as one of the primary destinations for the extremists to leave or enter China, Dong said.

Dealing with illegal immigration has become an important part of the province's counter-terrorism campaign. Yunnan and its neighbouring regions have strengthened checks on main road channels and increased border patrols. Organizers, traffickers, drivers and guides remain the principal targets.

Some of the extremists have decided to engage in terrorism in the province after their attempts were thwarted. In one case, on March 1, 2014, a group of assailants armed with knives randomly attacked civilians at the Kunming Railway Station, causing 31 deaths and injuring another 141. Police shot dead four of the attackers, and wounded and captured a female suspect.

Police later identified the assailants as extremists who were trying to cross the border to join the "jihad", but failed and decided to commit the terror attack at the railway station.

The police on Thursday also made public three similar cases, including one in the province's Kaiyuan city on March 25, in which the police arrested two suspects and shot dead another two as they tried to smuggle people across the border.

The provincial public security department said that it will encourage informants to provide tip-offs to police concerning the illegal border crossing. Information leading to arrests will be rewarded with payments ranging from 5,000 yuan (S$1,102) to 200,000 yuan.

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