Beijing: China has arrested 553 extremists who tried to cross the border in Yunnan province to travel to war zones overseas, mostly to Syria to join Islamic State militants, since 2014, officials said today.
As of June this year, police have captured 35 people who planned to illegally cross the border and participate in the Syrian conflict, and shot and killed four terrorists during the process, Dong Jialu, deputy head of the Yunnan Provincial Public Security Department, said at a news conference.
"The police investigation found that the attempts to illegally cross the border were largely coordinated by forces overseas as they colluded with the organisers in and out of the country to spread extremist thoughts and entice them to join the fight in Syria," he said.
The police also rescued 217 minors who were coerced into making the attempt and detained 161 drivers who helped the extremists.
Between April last year and January, police in the four border regions discovered more than 260 cases of illegal cross-border activity and arrested more than 350 people suspected of organising the crossings, along with 852 people who were attempting to enter another country illegally, state-run China Daily quoted Ministry of Public Security as saying.
Chinese officials say they are confronted with growing number of incidents of?migration, mostly by Uyghur Muslims from Xinjiang where Al-Qaeda linked separatist outfit, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, (ETIM) has become active.
Recently Thailand has deported 109 Uyghurs to China.
Chinese officials said many of them planned to go to Turkey, home for native Uyghurs, and then move over to Syria to join Islamic State.
China faces a growing threat from terrorism, especially from extremists who have participated in the Syrian conflict but have now returned and are planning domestic attacks, an official from the Department of Counterterrorism at the Public Security Ministry said.
The ministry said about 300 Chinese extremists have fought in Syria, and although most are members of the Syrian branch of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, a small number have joined other terrorist and extremist organisations.
Yunnan, which has a border of more than 4,060 km, has been seen as one of the primary destinations for the extremists to leave or enter China.
Some of the extremists have decided to engage in terrorism in the province after their attempts were thwarted.
In one case, on March 1, 2014, a group of assailants armed with knives randomly attacked civilians at the Kunming Railway Station, killing 31 deaths and injuring another 141.
The provincial public security department said that it will encourage informants to provide tip-offs to police concerning the illegal border crossing.
Information leading to arrests will be rewarded with payments ranging from 5,000 yuan (USD 805) to 200,000 yuan.