Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China diplomat says 100 Chinese citizens may be fighting for ISIS

Wu Sike, China's Middle East Envoy

(Photo : REUTERS/Mjed Jaber ) Wu Sike, China's Middle East Envoy, talks during his news conference at the Chinese Embassy in Amman.

As many as 100 Chinese citizens may be fighting for The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, in Syria, a Chinese official says.

The fighters for ISIS, which renamed itself the Islamic State after substantial military gains in Iraq recently, come from Xinjiang in China's far western region. The ISIS fighters are members of the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, according to Wu Sike, China's special envoy to the Middle East.

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Many Uighurs have been pressing for an East Turkestan state and some have been labeled Islamist extremists by Beijing.

Wu, was quoted this week as saying that the Middle East was providing a good place for terrorists to ply their craft. He said Muslim extremists were flocking to Syria and Iraq from all over the world including the United States, Canada, Europe, other Islamic countries and, yes, China. Fighters returning from the conflict were swept up in radical ideology and posed security risks for the counties to which they return.

Wu would not specify the precise number of Chinese militants that joined ISIS, but believed there to be around 100, based on foreign media reports. U.S. intelligence sources said about one-third of violent extremist group members in Syria, or about 7,000 fighters, are from outside Syria.

While doubting many Chinese fighters in Syria would return to Xinjiang, Wu said it was important for China to aid Middle Eastern nations fighting Muslim extremists. China has been afflicted with terrorism in its western areas, he said. Supporting the fight against extremism benefitted China in the long run, he said.

Another shared interest of China and Iraq was oil the production of which is threatened by ISIS. China is Iraq's largest foreign oil buyer with state energy companies like PetroChina, CNOOC Ltd. and Sinopec Group owning more than 20 percent of Iraq oil projects. Many oil holdings were purchased during 2009 energy auctions.

Wu said China was confident Iraq could reconcile its different political factions and resume economic development in the future, especially in energy sectors.

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