'Terrorist' Uighurs are refugees: Malaysia DPM

HUTAN MELINTANG (Perak) • Two alleged Uighur terror suspects reported to have been planning attacks in Thailand are actually economic refugees, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister said, responding to a report that the duo were believed to have left Thailand for Malaysia.

"They are using Thailand and Malaysia as transit points to get to a third country, and to brand them as terrorists, I think it's unfair," Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters on Sunday.

"Some of their people may have been involved in terrorism, militancy and radicalism but it doesn't mean that all of them are."

A leaked intelligence memorandum from Thailand had said two Uighurs and two Russians of Chechen descent were plotting terror attacks in Thailand. The two Uighurs arrived in Phuket from an unidentified location on March 23. The resort island is expected to be crowded during the Songkran festival this week.

Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also home minister, said that Malaysia had received information from Interpol, as well as homeland security authorities in China, about the intelligence memo.

Uighurs, said Dr Ahmad Zahid, were known to be legal immigrants carrying passports in search of a third country to go to. "We've been working very closely with the Chinese government in sending them back to China," he said.

Asked if this meant that news of the Uighurs entering Malaysia was not a cause for concern, he said the government would continue to monitor the situation based on the information given by the Interpol as well as the Asean Chiefs of Police.

Meanwhile, China's violence- prone far western region of Xinjiang is offering rewards of up to 5 million yuan (S$1 million) for tip-offs about terrorist attacks, the government there said yesterday.

Hundreds of people have been killed in unrest in Xinjiang in the past few years.

The government blames the violence on militants who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for minority Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline ''Terrorist' Uighurs are refugees: Malaysia DPM'. Print Edition | Subscribe