Islamic State members have been arrested after returning home to China's predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, highlighting the jihadist group's far-reaching influence.
"I believe there are extremists from Xinjiang who have joined Islamic State," the Communist Party's chief in the region, Zhang Chunxian, said, according to the South China Morning Post.
"We have recently arrested some groups who have returned after joining," Zhang said during a meeting at the National People's Congress, which is now holding its annual session in Beijing.
Over the past year, about 300 Chinese citizens-many of them from Xinjiang--are believed to have traveled through Malaysia to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The militant group controls large swaths of territory in the region, which it rules with an iron fist.
Since then, three Chinese nationals have been killed after attempting to leave the group, the Chinese Global Times reported earlier this year. One man was shot in Syria after trying to escape and return to school in Turkey, and two others were beheaded along with 11 others from six countries who attempted to desert the group.
Additionally, China has experienced a series of violent attacks in recent weeks that authorities believe may have been carried out by Muslim separatists from Xinjiang.
Over the past several months, China, which receives 10% of its oil imports from Iraq, has expressed growing concern about the influence Muslim extremists would have in Xinjiang if infiltrated.
Because the country has been fighting a separatist insurgency of its own in the region for the past several years, authorities at the time feared that IS would "embolden the simmering independence movement" (Foreign Policy).
Last July, Chinese special envoy Wu Sike met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and guaranteed anti-terror support, noting that Beijing would fully respect the country's sovereignty. When Wu returned to Beijing he told reporters that China was a victim of terror with roots in Syria and Iraq. "Solving the conflicts in Iraq and Syria will benefit China and the entire world," he said.
"Wu's speech shows that China is paying close attention to the Middle East situation and is fully aware of the grim influence the recent upsurge of violence in Syria and Iraq has cast on global terrorism activities, including terror attacks in Xinjiang," Xiao Xian, a professor from the Institute of International Studies at Yunnan University, told the Global Times.
On Tuesday, Zhang emphasized that authorities in the region are now forced to fight against IS' influence with increased vigor due to the latest unfolding of events.
"Xinjiang cannot stay out of the affair," Zhang said, "We are also affected."