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Russia's terrorist attack and the message for China

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Jan. 7, 2014 at 9:36 AM   |   Comments

HERNDON, Va., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Those responsible for the Dec. 28 and 29 terrorist attacks on a railway station and trolley bus in Volgograd, Russia, have yet to step forward -- although their identity will come as no surprise.

Once identified, China will need a 36-year plan to deal with a growing threat which, by 2050, will be knocking on both sides of its bordering door with Russia.

On Dec. 28, a female suicide bomber approached a metal detector in the rail terminal, detonating a hidden explosive device, claiming at least 17 dead and 50 wounded.

A Muslim, she undoubtedly sought fulfillment of Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov's call in July to continue attacks against civilian Russian targets. Dubbed "Russia's bin Laden," Umarov had suspended such attacks in February 2012 to encourage more street demonstrations against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Within 24 hours of the Dec. 28 attack, a second suicide bomber triggered a similar device on a bus, claiming 14 lives and wounding 30.

Formerly named Stalingrad -- a city of great Russian pride for its historic World War II stand against the Nazis -- Volograd is a southern Russia transportation hub that presents an easy and symbolic target.

Two months earlier, another female suicide bomber, 30-year-old Naida Asiyalova, married to a Muslim militant, detonated an explosive device on a Volgograd bus, killing six and wounding 40.

Boasting the title "emir of the Caucasus Emirate," Umarov is warming-up for a major strategic attack. He announced he will strike the Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia, which begin in February, viewing the Games as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." Putin vows Umarov won't succeed.

Although Islamists have been active in the North Caucasus region for more than a decade, Sochi will become a high visibility test of two opposing wills.

Umarov is a veteran of both the first and second (ongoing) Chechen wars. Proving to be a "cat with nine lives," he suffered repeated wounds and has avoided numerous close captures.

Relentless in his effort to unite the Northern Caucasus into a single Islamic state, he seeks to spread the war into "many regions of Russia." Fighting occurs almost daily in Dagestan, an area linked to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

But China need heed the transformation lying ahead. Dealing with an isolated threat within its own borders, China will eventually see it influenced by a much greater one growing on its border with Russia.

China is no stranger to Muslim separatist violence.

Turkic-speaking Muslims in northwest China's Xinjiang region bordering Russia, known as Uighur, have long been oppressed by the government and its policy of relocating ethnic Chinese Hans to offset Uighur influence. Since April, more than 90 people have died in Uighur-related violence there.

(As China considers Uighurs terrorists, the United States didn't repatriate Uighur Guantanamo detainees, which made subsequent resettlement efforts for them very difficult.)

Uighurs lived along the China-Russian border for centuries where the government granted them an autonomy -- rights to self-govern, use their own language, maintain their own customs and practice their own Islamic religion -- which ebbed and flowed.

Granting Uighurs this was due more to Russia's influence over them in China and China's lack thereof plus its inability to establish control in the early 1900s. The Soviets entered China several times, allegedly to put down Muslim rebellions there. But, by the second half of the 20th century, China sought to establish sole control, believing it was Moscow causing the violence.

Clamping down on Uighur autonomy, China pressed the Soviets to leave Xinjiang in the 1950s. It encouraged ethnic Hans to relocate to Xinjiang, seeking to forcibly assimilate Uighurs into Chinese society.

The end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution led to another phase during which Uighur oppression was relaxed. The government even encouraged the establishment of mosques.

This had an ulterior motive, however -- to secure economic control of the region while keeping the Uighurs preoccupied with practicing their religion.

But China soon grasped this was creating a highly religious Muslim group with a mindset opposed to a single, unified China. In particular, Uighurs, who were religiously committed to procreation, objected to China's one-child policy and its failure to ban alcohol.

Seeking to maximize control over Xinjiang after the U.S.S.R.'s 1991 collapse, China struggled to stabilize Islamic extremism by isolating the region and its Uighur residents from Islamist influences. That stability, however, has yet to come.

As the 21st century advances, China undoubtedly will be monitoring Russia's demographics.

There is an ongoing debate as to how those demographics will play out in Russia by mid-century. Some predict a higher Muslim birth rate, combined with Muslim immigration, translates into native Russians being out-numbered by 2050.

A 2.1 birthrate is required to maintain a given population's numbers. But a Muslim birthrate exceeding 2.1 and a native birthrate below it makes a future, increasingly dominant, Islamic influence in Mother Russia a reality whether Muslims become a majority by 2050 or not.

And, as that occurs and with Islam's focus on establishing a caliphate undefined by national borders, China's Xinjiang region will also fall under the influence of Russia's Islamic extremists.

It is unfortunate non-Muslim governments Russia and China fail to recognize the fact that Islamic extremism is here to stay.

Fourteen-hundred years of history has earned the religion a reputation for violence, seeking to convert non-Muslims to Islam or put them to death. Yet, throughout history, other than the Crusades, non-Muslim governments have rarely perceived Islam's common threat to their existence as sufficient to ban together to confront it.

They need to rethink this.

Later this century, both Russia and China will suffer the domestic consequences of failing to heed this lesson. Sadly, by minimizing Islam's threat, the United States already is.

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(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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