Uighur protesters rally in Istanbul against what they say is Chinese oppression.
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Since 2013, thousands of Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority from western China, have traveled to Syria to train with the Uighur militant group Turkistan Islamic Party and fight alongside Al-Qaeda, playing key roles in several battles. Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops are now clashing with Uighur fighters as the six-year conflict nears its endgame.China is also a victim of terror, its officials say, and Uighur men are influenced by global Islamic militant ideology.But rare and extensive Associated Press interviews with nine Uighurs who had left China to train and fight in Syria showed that Uighurs don't neatly fit the profile of fighters answering the call of jihad.For Uighurs like Ali, China had become unlivable since the government launched an expansive security crackdown in Xinjiang after the 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi, the regional capital, that killed nearly 200 people.As the repression mounted, more than 10,000 Uighurs fled China, according to Uighur exiles.Uighur activists and Syrian and Chinese officials estimate that at least 5,000 Uighurs have gone to Syria to fight – though many have since left.Some Uighurs complained about being stuck in Syria instead of attacking China, as they had been promised.Many Uighur militants have grown tired of the war and are looking to leave, says Seyit Tumturk, a Uighur activist in Turkey who often speaks to fighters in Syria.
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