Protesting Uighurs in China are angry at their treatment by Beijing
Li Shaoxian, vice-president of a think tank with ties to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, said "many hundreds or thousands" of Uighurs from the country's western Xinjiang province were involved with ISIS – also known as Daesh – in Syria.
He said: “Whether there are Chinese citizens involved in ISIS, the answer is certainly yes.
"I don't have the specific number but I think there are possibly many hundreds, or thousands, of them”.
I believe there are quite many Chinese citizens fighting in Syria, not just with the ISIS but also other forces in Syria
“As a researcher I have been following the situation closely”.
“I believe there are quite many Chinese citizens fighting in Syria, not just with the ISIS but also other forces in Syria, where there are all kinds of groups who have people fighting who are from China.”
The communist superpower has long been concerned about a growing number of “Chinese-origin” terrorists tied to the abhorrent jihadi sect.
And Mr Li, who heads the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, warned returning jihadis could pose a “major” threat to China.
According to India Today, he said: “I believe this will be a major source or threat because if these people come back to the country of origin they could constitute a considerable threat to the security of the country of origin."
Some estimates put the size of ISIS’ army at 20-30,000, but others believe the force could be as large as 200,000 fighters.
Though they have been seriously weakened by daily bombing raids carried out by US-led coalition jets and Russian warplanes, a sizeable army remains.
Were a large contingent of Chinese fighters to join the terror group, its ability to claim new territory across Syria, Iraq and other regions in Asia would be vastly improved.
Uighurs are a Muslim minority who have a history of conflict with the Chinese government
Senior Chinese government officials warned last year that Uighurs were flocking to join ISIS.
Zhang Chunxian, Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang – the region worst affected – said in March:"The organisation [ISIS] has a huge international influence and Xinjiang can't keep aloof from it and we have already been affected.
“We have also found that some who fought returned to Xinjiang to participate in terrorist plots."
A market stall in Xinjiang – capital of the Uighurs
Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism analyst at the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute, Xinjiang was feeding ISIS in Syria and Iraq with fighters.
But he questioned the likelihood of those fighters retrying to China: "Whether individuals are able to make the journey all the way back seems difficult, especially given the difficulty people from Xinjiang seem to have in getting passports.”
Chinese Uighurs are an ethnic Turkic Muslim minority who have a long history of conflict with the Chinese government caused by economic and cultural factors that have spiralled into violence.
Member of China's Uighur minority have stood trial for terrorism in Indonesia