Chinese state media report minority Muslim Uighurs deported from Thailand to China will remain in detention while authorities investigate whether some planned to join the Islamic State or other groups in the Middle East.
Wednesday’s reports also said some of the 109 Uighurs fought with Thai and Chinese police as they were being put on a July 9 flight back to China because they were led to think they would be executed on their return.
Last month’s repatriations were heavily criticized by the U.N. refugee agency, the United States and others. In Turkey, protesters ransacked the Thai Consulate in Istanbul.
China’s 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 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.
Some of the Uighurs interviewed told the paper they had sold all their possessions to pass through Thailand to Turkey.
A spokesman for the World Uighur Congress dismissed the report, saying many of the repatriated immigrants had “no interest in jihad” as they were women and children.
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.