A posting on the website of the Chinese embassy in Algiers on Tuesday urged all Chinese nationals and organisations in the country to take increased safety precautions and strengthen security measures "in consideration of the situation after the July 5 incident in Urumqi".

'Chatter'

"Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China's interests in the Muslim world, which they could use for targeting purposes"

Stirling Assynt report

According to London-based risk analysis firm Stirling Assynt, recent days have seen "an increasing amount of chatter" among figures believed to have links to al-Qaeda discussing attacks on Chinese interests.

"Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China's interests in the Muslim world, which they could use for targeting purposes," the firm said in a report released on Tuesday.

"This threat should be taken seriously," the report's authors wrote.

In the report Stirling Assynt estimated that there were 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria, and hundreds of thousands more employed in projects across North Africa and the Middle East.

China has said more than 180 people died in the recent violence in Urumqi which erupted on July 5.

It is not clear how many of the dead were Muslims but Chinese officials have said most of those killed were ethnic Han Chinese.

China has been expanding investments in Algeria as it seeks access to oil supplies [EPA]
However, Uighur leaders have accused Chinese forces of opening fire on peaceful protests, and say the number of people killed is far higher than the official tally.

Responding to the reported al-Qaeda threat of reprisals against Chinese workers, Uighur exiles said they opposed the use of violence from any side.

"I do not believe violence is a solution to any problem," Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said in a statement.

"Global terrorists should not take advantage of the Uighur people's legitimate aspirations and the current tragedy in East Turkestan to commit acts of terrorism targeting Chinese diplomatic missions or civilians," she said, using the term many Uighurs use for Xinjiang.

China has accused Kadeer of instigating the unrest in Xinjiang and has frequently said that she and her organisation have links to "terrorists".

Possible targets

In its report Stirling Assynt said likely Chinese targets could be across the Middle East and Africa, including possible strikes on Chinese projects in Yemen.

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The firm also noted the killing three weeks ago of 24 Algerian security officers who were meant to protect Chinese engineers.

That attack has been blamed on al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

"On that occasion they did not attack the Chinese engineers because the target was the project on which they were working. Now, future attacks of this kind are likely to target security forces and Chinese engineers alike," the report said.

It said the most likely scenario would be that al-Qaeda's central leadership would encourage their affiliates in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula to attack Chinese targets near at hand, it said.

Al-Qaeda centrally does "not want to open a new front with China", the analysis said.

Asked about the report, Qin Gang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, denied the Urumqi violence was triggered by religion.

"We hope that relevant Muslim countries and Muslims can recognise the true nature [of the unrest]," Qin told reporters in Beijing.

He said the violence was aimed at sabotaging China's unity, adding: "It's not an issue of religion or ethnic groups."