BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say minority Muslim Uighurs deported from Thailand to China remain in detention while authorities investigate whether some planned to join the Islamic State or other groups in the Middle East.
The reports Wednesday also said some of the 109 Uighurs (WEE'-gurz) fought with Thai and Chinese police as they were being put on a flight back to China last month out of fear they would be executed.
The July 9 repatriations were heavily criticized by the U.N. refugee agency, the United States and others. In Turkey, protesters ransacked the Thai Consulate in Istanbul.
The Global Times newspaper said many had planned to travel from Thailand to Turkey and may have ended up fighting in neighboring Iraq or Syria. Police said they suspect 13 had terrorist links. The reports did not say why the others remained detained almost a month after being sent back to China.
Uighurs share strong linguistic, cultural and religious ties with Turks and are native to China's far western Xinjiang region. The group has complained of harsh cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's flagship People's Daily, based its report on what it said were interviews with some of the group conducted by the Xinjiang Daily newspaper.
It said some among the group had been encouraged by friends and relatives to take up jihad abroad.
"I was told that if I don't join jihad I will go to hell, while a martyr of jihad will go to heaven," it quoted one of the Uighurs, identified only as Abbas, as saying. "And I wanted to go to heaven."
It said they sold property and paid thousands of dollars to smugglers to leave China for Southeast Asian nations where they would tell authorities they were Turkish. Turkish diplomats would then issue them passports, allowing them to travel on to Turkey.
Thai officials have been permitted to visit members of the group in Xinjiang and told reporters they found conditions in their detention center to be good.
Wednesday's report said medical checks and counseling have been provided to "soften their anxiety."
Thai officials said the Uighurs had been in Thailand for over a year, along with others who had fled China and claimed to be Turkish. Thai authorities sought to verify their nationalities before relocating them, and a separate group of 172 was sent to Turkey in late June.
China wanted the Uighurs back for having left the country illegally. Beijing has accused Uighur separatists of terrorism in Xinjiang, where ethnic violence has left hundreds of people dead over the past two years.
The Chinese government and jihadi monitoring groups say some Uighurs have traveled to Iraq and Syria where they are fighting alongside Islamic State or al-Qaida affiliates.