10th March 2015 – China has confirmed locals from its restive Xinjiang province have joined the Islamic State. Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief Zhang Chunxian, speaking on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session, said today that some individuals were recently arrested after they returned home from the Middle East.

China has been hit by a series of violent attacks in recent years and authorities have blamed some of these attacks on Xinjiang’s Muslim separatists. Of late, China has expressed further concern that Xinjiang separatists are working with Islamic State militants.

Chinese paramilitary army

Chinese paramilitary army

But provincial party chief Zhang said authorities are ready to fight the growing influence of Islamic State. He said: “I can give you an inside story. Recently, we’ve busted a terrorist cell in Xinjiang run by those who have returned from fighting with the organisation, but to break the case, and to reduce the loss of lives, and to ensure people’s safety, sometimes you need secrecy and time.”

Mr Zhang’s comments represent the first time officials have confirmed Chinese nationals have joined IS militant forces. But he did not say how many people may be involved or their roles.

Despite the IS threat, however, officials said the overall situation in Xinjiang remains stable despite some fairly recent terror attacks.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said: “Our society is now entirely under control. A lot of terror plots have been nipped in the bud. I believe that terrorist incidents will decrease.”

During an hour-long news conference, Xinjiang officials also provided an update on China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, which refers to the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Mr Zhang said: “East of Xinjiang is China’s 1.3 billion population, while to the west, there are also 1.3 billion people. This means that Xinjiang can both service the rest of China, and also regions along the Silk Road Economic Belt which are developing westwards. It’s a natural core area which can serve its purpose.”

Mr Zhang added that the province would strive to become a centre of communication, trade, culture, finance and medical care along the Silk Road economic belt.