China foils Olympic terror plot

Police in the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang in northwestern China said Thursday they have arrested 82 suspected terrorists who were plotting to sabotage the Beijing Olympics, state media reported.

Chen Zhuangwei, head of the Public Security Bureau in the regional capital Urumqi, said the suspects belonged to five terrorist groups which have been smashed by security forces in the first six months of this year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Few details were given, but the police reported earlier this year that they broke up one terrorist group from Xinjiang which was allegedly planning to kidnap athletes, journalists and visitors to the Beijing Games.

Security officials in Xinjiang also revealed this week that they shot dead five alleged Muslim militants plotting to set up a separate state in the region after the security forces surrounded an apartment in Urumqi.

Chen's comments come amid a massive security operation in China ahead of the Olympic Games, with nearly 100,000 members of the security forces committed to counter-terrorism duties alone.

"All police must continue to work hard and increase the fight against as to provide solid work for the Olympic security and ensure the stability of the regional capital," Chen was quoted as saying.

Exiled Uyghur groups say the terrorist threat has been exaggerated by the Chinese government to justify tighter security in Xinjiang, which -- like Tibet -- has its own distinctive religion, language and culture, plus a history of separatist sentiment.

The Chinese government has also said the Olympics are a potential target for international terrorist groups.

Chen added that police have also arrested another 66 people involved in "separatism, terrorism and extremism" and have destroyed 41 Muslim extremist training bases, but again few details were given.

Some 25 members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong were also arrested in the first half of the year, he said.

The Olympic torch relay through Urumqi and the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang was held last month amid massive security, with only invited spectators allowed to watch the event and people living along the route told not to go out or open their windows and curtains.

The movements of foreign journalists covering the event were also strictly controlled by the authorities.

Chen was quoted as saying the "successful" hosting of the relay was a "significant victory" in the first phase of the Olympic security work in Xinjiang.