Xinjiang is home to eight million Muslim Uighurs, many of whom resent the growing presence and economic grip of Han Chinese and have called for greater autonomy.

The Uighurs are a Turkic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

'Terrorist incidents'

Wang offered no specific evidence of the plot, and earlier reports on the raid had made no mention of the Olympics being a target for the group.

"Those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter what ethnic group they are from"

Wang Lequan,
head of the Xinjiang region Communist Party
The Global Times newspaper, which is published by the Communist party, had earlier reported that the group had planned bombings and other "violent terrorist incidents" on February 5, the last business day before the start of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese forces have been battling a low-intensity separatist movement for years but ETIM, which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by both the UN and the US, is believed to have no more than a few dozen members.

"Those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter what ethnic group they are from," Wang said.

In January 2007, Chinese forces killed 18 people described as terrorists in a gun battle in southern Xinjiang.

One policeman was killed and another wounded in the raid on the alleged ETIM training camp in the mountains of the Pamirs plateau.

Passenger jet plot

Meanwhile, Chinese officials said they had foiled an attempt to crash a passenger jet flying between Urumqi and the capital Beijing.

The China Southern flight landed in Lanzhou, capital of neighbouring Gansu province, on Friday after the crew discovered the attempt to "cause an air disaster", Nuer Baikeli, the Xinjiang governor, said.
   
"Who the people involved in the incident were, where they were from, what their aim was and what their background was, we are now investigating."

The Reuters news agency quoted a source as saying that at least two passengers had been taken into custody after a inflammable material was found in the aircraft's toilet.