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By Alamgir Bitani
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 1 (Reuters) - An al Qaeda-linked militant who has called for attacks on China over its treatment of Muslims has been killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence and Taliban officials said on Monday.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, is worried about the spread of Islamist violence from militant strongholds in northwest Pakistan to its troubled far western Xinjiang region.
Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, leader of a group called the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), was killed in an attack by a U.S. drone aircraft in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Feb. 15, they said.
“Abdul Haq al-Turkistani was among three militants killed,” said a Pakistani intelligence agency official who declined to be identified.
A Taliban militant official also said al-Turkistani had been killed in the U.S. missile strike.
Last year, al-Turkistani appeared in a video on an Islamist website calling for Chinese people to be attacked at home and abroad.
“Their men should be killed and captured to seek the release of our brothers who are jailed in Eastern Turkistan,” al-Turkistani, sitting with an assault rifle by his side, said last year, referring to the region by an old name.
Described by an al Qaeda-linked website as the leader of TIP, he accused China of committing “barbaric massacres” of Muslims.
Xinjiang is home to 8 million Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with central Asia. Many resent a growing Han Chinese presence.
Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have waged a heavy-handed campaign against what China calls violent separatist activity by the ethnic minority Muslims.
China is a major investor in predominantly Muslim Pakistan in areas such as telecommunications, ports and infrastructure. The countries are linked by a Chinese-built road pushed through Pakistan’s northern mountains.
Hundreds of Chinese people work in Pakistan and several have been kidnapped or killed in attacks in recent years.
Islamist militants from all over the world have flocked to northwestern Pakistan’s semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun lands since the 1980s, when holy warriors rallied with U.S. and Pakistani support to push Soviet forces out of neighbouring Afghanistan.
Many sought refuge in the region after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies out of Afghanistan in an invasion weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The United States has stepped up its drone strikes in northwest Pakistan over the past year killing several prominent militants including Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud last August.
Mehsud’s replacement, Hakimullah Mehsud, is also widely believed to have been killed in a missile strike in remote mountains in January.
The militants have killed hundreds of people over recent months in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, in suicide bomb attacks. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ralph Boulton)