5,000 Uighurs from China fighting in Syria, says ambassador

A group photo of jihadists with two Chinese fighters.

Up to 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from China’s far western region of Xinjiang are fighting in various militant groups in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China said on Monday, adding that Beijing should be extremely concerned about it.

Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, are thought to have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight in jihadist groups, after having travelled illegally via Southeast Asia and Turkey.

Syria’s ambassador in Beijing, Imad Moustapha, told Reuters on the sidelines of a business forum that while some of the Uighurs were fighting with Islamic State (IS), most were fighting “under their own banner” to promote their separatist cause.

“Our estimated numbers, because of the numbers we fight against, we kill, we capture, we wound, would be around 4-5,000 Xinjiang jihadists,” he said, adding “China as well as every other country should be extremely concerned.”

According to an Israeli intelligence report from earlier this year, 3,000 members of the Uighur Muslim minority joined IS or other jihadist groups in the war in Syria.