Yet the Chinese government has continued to paint its fight against Uighur groups as part of the international war on terror -- a strategy, many experts say, intended to garner international support for its actions.
Chinese authorities say they have made dozens of arrests of terrorists within its borders this year. According to state-run media, authorities have broken up rallies, executed Uighurs suspected of terrorism, and closed down mosques.
In particular, Chinese authorities have identified a group called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as the greatest terror threat in China. After two Uighurs killed 16 border police in the western Chinese city of Kashgar this week, authorities there said that the suspects' homemade guns and weapons resembled those seized from an ETIM training camp last year.
But far from resembling al Qaeda, the group is more like the Basque separatist group ETA, which has used terrorist tactics of bombing to wage a war in Spain for their own state, according to U.S. officials. Unlike the Basque group, however, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement has not yet exhibited a substantial ability to conduct bombings or organize insurgency, the officials said.
Another group embracing violence has also appeared in recent months. Known as the Turkistan Islamic Party, the group has released two videos in recent weeks, calling for jihad and threatening an attack during the Olympics. It also claimed responsibility for recent bus bombings in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Kunming. Chinese authorities have dismissed the group's warnings, and experts say there is no proof the group has carried out any of the attacks that it claimed responsibility for. Some terrorism experts say a continued crackdown could lead Uighurs to more violence.
Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, wrote in his recent report, "The ETIM Threat to the Beijing Olympics," that ETIM's goals have already changed from nationalist ones to global jihad.
In his report, Gunarata wrote that groups of Uighurs in Pakistan have joined al Qaeda and the Taliban, and constitute a real threat to the Olympic Games and targets outside China: "Today, ETIM follows the philosophy of al Qaeda and respects Osama bin Laden," he wrote. "Such groups that believe in the global jihad agenda do not confine their targets to the territories that they seek to control. ...ETIM presents a threat to Chinese as well as to Western targets."