We know from what happened in Urumqi in 2009 that conditions of life in Xinjiang are such that some Uighurs are prepared to respond with lethal violence; and do so in numbers that require a certain level of group co-ordination.
But that’s it. Beijing calls this terrorism, but what we don’t seem to have are any of the visible signs of terrorist organisation: no leadership, no cell structure, no network linking activists with wider groups of sympathisers, no publicity outlet, no declared ideology and apparently no serious attempts to secure firearms or explosives. No one declares responsibility for specific incidents. No one makes demands. And, this being China, there is no background of in-country nationalist politics. Every so often, it seems, a group of Uighur men decide they’ve had enough, sketch out a rough plan, grab whatever’s handy for weaponry and then attack Chinese state institutions, ethnic Han individuals, or in this case supposed Uighur collaborators.
Having not much to go on within Xinjiang, Beijing either blames the whole thing on ETIM, the purported Uighur Al Qaeda franchise, which in fact it seems to have successfully kept out of the territory, or Uighur exiles in general, who seem to find it equally hard to make any headway. What we may have here is that old bugaboo ‘leaderless resistance’ finally made real.