On a rocky hilltop close to the city of Urumqi in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, five men don black bandanas decorated with Arabic writing. A black flag used by jihadi groups across the world flutters behind them as they press their hands together in a circle and pledge their allegiance to holy war.
In another video, the bearded leader of those men is in his kitchen as he first spits on and then burns small flags belonging to the United States, Britain and several Muslim nations — before stomping, with one bare foot, on a Chinese flag placed on the countertop.
The home videos look like an amateurish attempt to copy those produced by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants, but there is nothing comical about what happened next.
The bearded man, identified by Chinese authorities as Usmen Hasan, drove a jeep into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last October, flying a black flag. The car plowed through pedestrians and rammed into tourist barriers in front of the Forbidden City before exploding into flames, killing the occupants and three other people, and injuring 39.
Hasan exemplified China’s great fear — that a long-running nationalist insurgency in Xinjiang was morphing into a terrorist movement inspired by a foreign brand of radical Islam, and that domestic Uighurs were taking their cue from fellow Uighur extremists schooled in the madrassas of Pakistan and on the battlefields of Afghanistan.
The Crossroads of Special Operations