Perhaps the most novel theory about the Malaysia Airlines mystery is the possible link to the Chinese Uighur minority. Rumors spreading throughout China have neither been confirmed or denied.
The Uighur are Muslims of Turkish decent living in the far Western region of Xinjiang in China. Tensions between the ethnic minority and the Han Chinese majority in the region have risen over the past year, leaving at least 100 people dead from altercations. The group was put in the spotlight when they were accused of the March 1st knife attack at a Kunming train station, which killed 29 people.
The Uighur people are distinct ethnically and religiously from the majority of the Chinese population. After the Kunming attack, labeled a terrorist act, the Chinese government promised to “crack down” harder on the violence in the region. The ethnic minority believes the government is suppressing and undermining their Islamic religion.
Still many groups feel the Uighurs are in the right, such as the World [Uighur] Congress who believe the retaliation at Kunming was the act of desperate people running out of options, as their culture and religion are oppressed. The promise of aggression from the Chinese government was responded to with a different promise.
A rare interview was done with Abdullah Mansour, rebel leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party, a militant group made up of ethnic Uighurs. In the Reuter’s report, he said attacking China is the duty of not only his party, but all Muslims. “The fight against China is our…responsibility [as Muslims] and we have to fulfill it,” he said. “We have plans for many attacks [against] China.”
The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight happened only ten days after the Kunming attack, leaving some in China pointing fingers at a possible Uighur link.
Of the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, two thirds were Chinese. A number of theories have been created for the Boeing 777 which seems to have dissipated into thin air. It is possible it crash landed on land or water and has not been found, but some worry it was a terrorist attack.
Initial suspicions of terrorism were made public when it was revealed two passengers boarded with stolen passports. Those alarming hunches have since been dismissed, as it appears the two were more likely Iranian asylum seekers. The Uighur rumor was strengthened early Friday morning when Thai officials reportedly arrested 200 Uighurs on a secret plantation in the Songkhla province. The group was waiting to be taken to Malaysia.
While the timeline of events is suspect, some have reservations about the ability of the Turkestan Islamic Party to pull off a terrorist attack on a stage like Malaysia Airlines flight 307. The attack in early March, if even it was the work of Uighurs, was said the be “the most brutal…incident we’ve seen from Xinjiang,” by Rohan Gunaratna, a professor from Singapor at the Nanyang Technological University.
The land attack in the Yunnan Province on March 1st was called a turning point for militant Uighurs. The escalation from regional violence to plane hijacking would be a highly dramatic and unexpected change. The Malaysia Airlines flight disappearance remains a mystery, and until more evidence is found, the link to Uighur militants from China will remain alive.
By Erin P. Friar