Al-Qaeda targets Chinese workers–not an idle threat

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has threatened Chinese workers in North Africa in retaliation for the deaths of Muslim Chinese Uyghurs last week in Xinjiang. This is not a minor threat. Chinese companies don’t use a lot of security in Africa, and Chinese workers generally are not well-liked by local populations in Africa; they lack the kind of population acceptance that would keep them safe. The Chinese embassy in Algeria has issued a warning and called for increased security measures for Chinese citizens in Algeria.

To make things worse, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – formerly known as “Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat” – is an especially violent branch of the group. They’re known for violent bombings, with casualty numbers that are consistently in the double-digits. They also take hostages; they executed a European hostage last month. They have the skills and the willingness to do major damage to Chinese interests. Chinese workers have been easy targets for previous terrorist attacks. Nine Chinese workers were kidnapped in Darfur in 2008, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front repeatedly attacked Chinese workers in Ethiopia.

For the record, there doesn’t seem to be any known link between Uyghurs and Al-Qaeda. The Uyghur American Association and the Uyghur World Congress have condemned Al-Qaeda’s threat, saying that “Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda do not represent the peaceful aspirations of the Uyghur people.”