China says most people in Xinjiang camps have ‘returned to society’

A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Pete

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – Most people sent to mass detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region have “returned to society”, a senior official from the region said on Tuesday, but he declined to give an estimate of for many have been held in recent years.

U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the western region.

China describes the camps as vocational training centers to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz, asked at a briefing in Beijing for an account of how many people had been put in the facilities, said the number was “dynamic”, and that most had “successfully achieved employment”.

“Currently, most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home,” Tuniaz said.

A transcript of the briefing emailed to reporters had been edited to read “most have already graduated”, using the word for students who finish a course or graduate from high school.

“Individual countries and news media have ulterior motives, have inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared (China)” over the centers, he said.

China has not issued any detailed figures for how many people have been sent to the camps and authorities limit access for independent investigators.

Researchers have made estimates through various methods such as analyzing government procurement documents and satellite imagery of the facilities.

Foreign journalists have reported personal accounts of some former internees and photographed sprawling prison-like facilities surrounded by razor wire and watchtowers.

As Western countries have mounted more strident criticism of the camps, China has not backed down on what it says is a highly successful de-radicalization program in a region that has been plagued with intermittent ethnic violence.

Officials have arranged highly choreographed visits for journalists and diplomats to some of the facilities, where the government says the rights of the “trainees” are fully guaranteed.

It has also suggested that fewer people would be sent through the centers over time.

The government rejects any suggestion that it abuses religious and human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month called China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang the “stain of the century”, and the Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies there.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Islamic State using online ‘headhunters’ to recruit young Germans

A 3D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag are seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016.

By Andrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Islamic State is using “headhunters” on social media and instant messaging sites to recruit disaffected young people in Germany, some as young as 13 or 14, the head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency said on Thursday.

Hans-Georg Maassen also drew parallels between the militant Islamist group and past radical movements such as communism and Adolf Hitler’s Nationalist Socialists which also tried to lure young people keen to rebel against their parents and society.

“On social media networks there are practically headhunters who approach young people and get them interested in this (Islamist) ideology,” Maassen told foreign reporters in Berlin.

Maassen cited the case of a teenage German-Moroccan girl identified as Safia S., who is accused of stabbing a policeman at a train station in Hanover last February, and a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy who tried to detonate two explosive devices in the western town of Ludwigshafen in December.

About 20 percent of an estimated 900 people from Germany who have been recruited by Islamic State to join the fight in Iraq and Syria are women, some as young as 13 or 14, he said.

German authorities are monitoring 548 Islamists deemed to be a security risk, but German law does not allow for their arrest until they have committed a crime, Maassen said.

He said he was satisfied that police and security officials had communicated well over the case of the failed Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri, who killed 12 people on Dec. 19 by ramming a truck through a Berlin Christmas market.

The case sparked criticism because German authorities had identified Amri, who was imprisoned in Italy for four years, as a security risk and had investigated him for various reasons, but he was never taken into custody.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday the cases of all those deemed a security risk in the aftermath of the Berlin attack would be reviewed.

Maassen said European intelligence agencies were also seeing the radicalization of other segments of society through social media, with growing numbers of people who were not previously politically active attracted to far-right groups.

Such people had their views reinforced in so-called “echo chambers” on the Internet, Maassen said.

“We’ve seen this with Islamic State, but now we’re seeing this with so-called ‘good citizens’ who are being radicalized, and we worry that this radicalization could be transformed into a willingness to commit violent acts,” Maassen said.

Support for far-right groups has grown in Germany following the arrival of more than a million migrants and asylum seekers over the past two years, many of them young Muslim men fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Spain arrests two accused of connections to Islamist militants

Spanish civil guards

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish police have arrested two people in Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta accused of connections with Islamist militants, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The two detained had been through a long radicalization process and formed part of a group which was thought to be at an advanced stage of preparation for potential attacks, it said.

Police, searching six locations in relation to the arrests, found one gun and three non-firing weapons, the ministry said, though it did not elaborate.

Police had unearthed at least one automatic weapon wrapped in a plastic sheet on wasteland near the locations being investigated, a Reuters witness said.

Spanish police have arrested 180 people accused of connections to Islamist militant groups since raising the country-wide security alert to one below the highest level in 2015.

(Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Toby Chopra and Hugh Lawson)