The US removed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from its list of terrorist organizations on October 20th, a move that was made public on Thursday. The ETIM is a Uyghur Muslim group that was designated as a terrorist organization due to its suspected links to al-Qaeda in 2002.
On Friday, China criticized the US for its decision to remove ETIM from the terror list. Beijing says the group was behind a series of terror attacks in Xinjiang and in other parts of China, including a 2013 attack on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) took credit for the 2013 Tiananmen Square attack, which is believed to be the same group as the ETIM.
A State Department official told Radio Free Asia that the group was removed from the terror list because, “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.”
Notably, in February 2018, the US launched airstrikes in Afghanistan’s remote Badakhshan, which is close to the border of Tajikistan and Xinjiang. Military officials said they targeted members of the Taliban and the ETIM.
The Washington Post reported on the US airstrike on the ETIM in 2018. The Post said the area that was targeted is “home to members of both the Taliban and a separatist group that is known as both the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Turkistan Islamic Party.”
A US military official spoke with the Post about the airstrikes. “Anybody that is an enemy of Afghanistan, we’re going to target them,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance R. Bunch said. “We’ve got new authorities now that allow us to be able to … target the Taliban and the ETIM where they previously thought they were safe.” President Trump loosened the rules of engagement for the military in Afghanistan in 2017.
Since 2013, thousands of Uyghur fighters from the TIP have been fighting alongside al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. Today, Uyghurs are embedded in Syria’s Idlib province, aligned with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the al-Qaeda affiliate that controls most of the province.