UK & World News
Chinese War On Terror May Breed Extremists
Sky News has obtained rare access to China's Xinjiang Province to investigate reports Muslims are being targeted and oppressed by the government.
China's leaders say foreign Islamist extremists, perhaps with links to IS and al Qaeda, are infiltrating its population, responsible for growing unrest in the region.
Since December, a series of bloody bomb and knife attacks have killed more than a hundred people across China.
Urumqi, a city on the old Silk Road with a population of three million, is the provincial capital and a place on edge right now.
Soldiers stand guard outside the city's great mosque. Armoured police vehicles are parked in the shadows.
Oil and gas rich, the far-western province of Xinjiang is home to the Uighur people, China's Muslim minority. The province was once almost all theirs.
These days, they share it with the Han Chinese, the country's dominant ethnic group; the people who would be globally recognisable as Chinese.
In recent years, relations between the Uighurs and the Han have become increasingly difficult.
Ancient Uighur homes have been destroyed. Uighur culture has been diluted and their freedom to practise Islam has been restricted.
In May, two 4x4 vehicles drove up a busy market street in a Han Chinese district of Urumqi. It was early morning and Gongyuan Street was crowded with shoppers.
Explosives were thrown from the vehicles as they passed up the street. Forty-three died and more than 90 were injured.
Today, the same street is almost deserted. We meet Mr Sun, a retired Han Chinese teacher.
He saw it all happen and we ask him who did it. "Minorities," he says. He leans forward and whispers: "Muslims."
Our taxi driver, also Han Chinese, goes further. Echoing the government line, he says the attack was the work of religious fanatics infiltrating the south.
"From Kashgar," he says. "It's only those who are uncultured who cause problems.
"People who were not educated, who live in the south. They are brainwashed by terrorists."
The Chinese government says it is facing an unprecedented threat from Islamist extremism.
They say foreign extremists are infiltrating the Uighur population and radicalising them.
However, Uighurs in exile, human rights organisations and the US government doubt that Islamist extremism is to blame.
They believe the Communist Party is blaming external forces as a way of dealing with internal unrest.
The tactics used to counter the violence are exacerbating the problem, they say.
Kashgar is further west from Urumqi; closer to Baghdad than it is to Beijing.
It is the Uighur heartland and lies just under 200 miles from the Afghan and Pakistani borders.
At the city's centre, the Id Kah mosque is the country's largest. In July, the Imam was murdered here; stabbed and clubbed to death.
"He deserved to die," a Uighur shopkeeper tells me quietly. He does not want to be identified. All Uighurs fear government reprisals if caught talking to foreigners.
The shopkeeper tells me that the Imam was a stooge of the Chinese government and condoning a series of restrictions for Uighurs in the region.
The restrictions are spelt out on a sign in a neighbouring street. With pictures, it states that beards are banned for young men and veils are banned for women.
Other policies include preventing Muslims from fasting at Ramadan.
"You understand what this sign means?" a young Uighur man says. "There's no freedom for us here."
The message was the same from the other Uighurs we spoke to. If you pressure and restrict people, they will fight back.
There are signs all around that this Chinese "war on terror" is intensifying. As it does, the resentment will only increase.
If religious extremists are among the Uighur population, and we saw no evidence of it, their efforts to recruit and to rally will only be made easier.
For the Chinese government, Islamist extremism could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
:: Click here to watch an extended version of Mark Stone's journey into Xinjiang