China / Society

China's anti-terrorism efforts: College student's road to 'jihad migration'

( Updated: 2015-07-20 11:55

Memetili, who is now under custody in a detention center in Urumqi. He had wanted to join what he was told was jihad – the Holy War.

A Xinjiang university undergraduate, 25-year-old Memetili is the only boy of four children in his family. While at university, he was approached by people trying to teach him "religious knowledge". Their "textbooks"? Videos and audio guides made by terrorist organizations overseas.

"After watching them, we thought we should do Hiljra and jihad. We thought it was a good thing to fight for our religion and people. Even if we die, we die as a martyr. Everything we watched encouraged us to join jihad,"he said.

Memetili was later introduced to a fellow Xinjiang man, who did just that, abroad.

"I asked about his situation there, he said it was very good, you should come too. We can learn religion together and do other things. He didn't make himself clear, but I thought we might go to Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan to join Jihad," Memetili said.

Memetili no longer had interest in his medical studies… His grades slipped very quickly.

"My family said they'll be disappointed in me if I don't study hard. I wanted to escape that pressure. I told the people arranging my journey that I don't have money. They told me not to worry and depart immediately," he said.

Memetili was helped by a gang to travel to southwest China, from where he would make his illegal crossings. Before he and the rest of the would-be immigrants set off, they received some directions.

"During the journey you must say you don't have money. Because the smugglers will threaten you with knives. They'll kill you if you don't hand the money over," he said.

"The smugglers have already been given money, but they still want more. Before you come, you should take off any clothes that have Chinese writing on, ID cards and everything should be gotten rid of, even socks."

The gang leader's following hint , made Memetili understand why.

"If you are arrested in Thailand, they'll be able to tell you are from China from your clothes. Otherwise if they ask where you are from, you can say you are Turkish. It's hard to tell our nationality. If nothing suspicious is found, those of us who have been arrested won't be repatriated. "

Along the journey, Memetili got to learn more about the people he was travelling with.

"I think 70 or 80 percent of the people going there, are going to join jihad."

Memetili and the rest of the group entered Malaysia, and were taken to the Turkish embassy there.

"At the embassy, the staff asked me how I came. I told him my experience and how I traveled illegally there. I said I couldn't go back or I'll be arrested. They agreed to help me. They could get us IDs if they write to related Malaysian departments."

Memetili went on to help forge some poor quality Turkish passports.

"If we're arrested, authorities will believe we're Turkish. Even if the Turkish Embassy sees the fake passports, they'll say we are their citizens,"Memetili said.

During his days abroad, Memetili came into contact with many organizations who dealt with illegal immigrants. One of them, was the vice president of the World Uygur Congress.

"I heard that person (Seyit Tumturk) can meet with Turkish senior officials. He came (from Turkey) when he heard illegal immigrants were stranded in Malaysia. He was very powerful there."

Memetili also heard of a shadowy figure going by the name Saypulla Hajj, with plans for the illegal immigrants.

"If they know no one in Turkey, they'll be taken to Saypulla Hajj, and sent to Syria. It's hard to go to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan in winter. People who want to join Islamic State have other contacts to send them there."

Police have confirmed that "Saypulla Hajj"heads recruitment in the international terrorist organization Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement. And being an ex-med student, Memetili was a sought-after candidate.

"People get injured during battles, and it takes a long time to train a person without medical knowledge to be a doctor. Battles are frequent so there are many injured. Besides weapons they need doctors most.

But Memetili never even completed his medical training…. And his helplessness later was etched into his memory.

"Almost everyone got sick, especially women and children who were not accustomed to the climate there. They went to hospitals and some got arrested. Some went out to buy drugs but they didn't work. Some died and their bodies were taken to mosques," he said.

"The Imam would ask where they were from and if there are passports. But there were no places to bury them. Some children caught infectious diseases and died. They were all between 3 or 4 years old to ten. I felt then, that the world is so big, but we don't even have a place to rest the dead.

He started to feel cheated.

"It's totally different from what I had been told. The reality was not what we imagined. So I don't want to mention, don't want to hear 'Jihadi Migration'."

After walking out of the nightmare of his "jihad", what the young man misses most are his parents. He says he would give anything to do chores for them and rub their tired shoulders, even more years in prison.


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