As Turkish officials were quoted in their state media on Thursday as saying the gunman who killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub was probably from China’s Muslim Uyghur minority, the leader of the Uyghur diaspora voiced empathy with the Turks and gratitude for that country’s role as haven for Uyghur refugees.
“We have been praying that this abominable terrorist should not have been one of us,” World Uyghur Congress (WUC) President Rebiya Kadeer said in an interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“I could not wait for the final confirmation of his identity. On the behalf of our people who do not have any way to express themselves that I wanted to let my Turkish brothers know that people of East Turkestan are one of the peoples who profoundly felt the pains of 39 people who were killed in this attack,” she said.
East Turkestan is the name Uyghur’s use for their Central Asian region, which Beijing rules and refers to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Kadeer spoke to RFA after Turkish media quoted officials as saying the government was closing in on the gunman who attacked Istanbul's upscale Reina nightclub, for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.
According to the Associated Press, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told the local A Haber news channel in an interview that the gunman was probably from China’s Muslim Uyghur minority and a "specially trained member of a (terror) cell."
"The security forces have determined his identify, his possible whereabouts have been determined... His contacts have also been determined," Kaynak told A Haber. "We can say that the circle is closing in on him," the AP quoted the official as saying.
Chinese propaganda fodder
Kaynak said authorities think the man, whose name hasn't been revealed, is still inside Turkey, although they haven't completely ruled out the possibility that he may have escaped after the New Year's attack, AP reported.
The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that raids by gendarmerie police and special operations teams had detained an undisclosed number of Uyghurs who are suspected of "aiding and abetting" the gunman.
In her comments to RFA, Kadeer praised Turkey, home to some 20,000 Uyghurs, as a place that welcomes “Uyghur people aspiring and hoping for their liberation and freedom and a country where Uyghurs seek help when they are in trouble.”
“Uyghurs are not that absurd to seek enemies abroad while living under occupation and colonization, and they are not so unconscionable as to attack a county who welcomed them with open arms,” she said.
While she didn’t rule out that the attacker could be a Uyghur, Kadeer said her community would reject such a person and the WUC should not be connected to the attack or the Islamic State.
She also expressed concern that Chinese state media would use the news from Turkey for propaganda.
“If the terrorist is identified as Uyghur that might make only one force jubilant: That would be the Chinese government, which has been trying to smear Uyghur opposition with terrorism charges, and is jailing thousands of Uyghurs with this charge at the moment,” she said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Paul Eckert.