China Says It Broke Up Terror Ring Plotting to Abduct Olympic Athletes

China said Thursday it had uncovered a criminal ring planning to kidnap athletes and others at the Beijing Olympic Games.

The "violent terrorist gang" was based in the restive western Xinjiang region and headed by a man identified as Abdulrahman Tuersun, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said at a news conference. He also gave more details on a second alleged ring that had been uncovered in January.

Wu said 35 people, including Tuersun and another man, Kuerban Mutalifu, were arrested between March 26 and April 6 for plotting to kidnap athletes, foreign journalists and other visitors to the August Olympics.

"They wanted to make a global impact to sabotage the Beijing Olympics," Wu said.

"We face a real terrorist threat," he added.

The men's names appear to indicate they are members of Xinjiang's Muslim Turkic Uighur ethnic group. Uighur radicals have been staging a low-intensity struggle for an independent state.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror hijackings, China has tried to portray the simmering insurgency in Xinjiang as linked to terrorist organizations in Central Asia and the Middle East. Evidence given has often been scanty, and some terror experts and overseas law enforcement officials have questioned whether such ties exist.

Wu said police confiscated almost 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of AN-TNT explosive material, eight sticks of dynamite, two detonators and "jihadist" literature in raids in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital.

He said the gang hatched the Olympic plot in November and traveled through Xinjiang last month seeking recruits, including those skilled in weapons and explosives production.

They also sought jihadist fanatics to carry out suicide bomb attacks in Urumqi and other Chinese cities, Wu said. He did not say whether any volunteers had been found or whether any attacks were imminent, but said police decided to "neutralize the threat" after collecting sufficient evidence.

Wu also provided details about those arrested in January, saying they had been manufacturing explosives and were plotting to attack hotels, government offices and military targets in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities.

Wu said 10 men, led by a man named Aji Maimaiti, had been arrested and confessed to acting on orders from a radical Islamic Xinjiang independence group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, to prepare attacks targeting the Beijing Olympics.

Those included remote-control bombings, poisonings and poison gas attacks, Wu said, adding that 13 practice bombings had already been carried out.

He said the group sent members abroad for training and had a variety of funding sources. Plans called for poison and bomb attacks to commence next month in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, Wu said, without giving details or mentioning direct attacks on any Olympic targets.

"The goal was to disrupt the Beijing Olympics," Wu said.

In raids on four locations in January, police seized 18 detonators and a variety of equipment to make bombs and poison, along with cash, three vehicles, two computers, a CD burner, and "jihadist" training materials, he said.

During Wu's presentation, police showed video of bottles, boxes, vehicles and machinery confiscated in the raids.

Wu urged residents to raise their alertness and contact police about suspicious people or incidents.

Western embassies asked Beijing for more information about an alleged attempt to hijack a plane in western China that authorities said they broke up, but so far no evidence has been provided, diplomats have said.

While the United States has labeled the East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization, the State Department also alleges widespread abuses of the legal and educational systems by the communist authorities to suppress Uighur culture and religion.