- The National Directorate of Security officials carried out a major operation in Kabul in mid-December, resulting in the arrest of about 10 Chinese intelligence agents
- The details of the terms of the release of 10 Chinese spies are not known
- China arranged for its government aircraft to evacuate its 10 spies captured last month in Afghanistan
Afghanistan released 10 Chinese nationals caught on 10 December in the capital city of Kabul for running a terror cell and allowed them to leave the country, people familiar with the issue said on Monday. The 10 members of the module were flown out of the country in a Chinese government-arranged aircraft.
On 25 December, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced the detention of 10 Chinese nationals for being part of an espionage module. Afghanistan had offered to pardon the 10 Chinese nationals on the condition that Beijing apologized for the deployment of the 10 individuals suspected to be connected to China’s State Security Ministry spy agency, including at least one woman.
The conditions under which the 10 Chinese spies were released are not known.
However, diplomats and security officials in Kabul confirmed to one of the leading news channels of the country that the 10 had been permitted to board a chartered aircraft that had flown them out of the country on Saturday after President Ashraf Ghani had cleared them. The 10-member module, evacuated after being detained for 23 days, was not formally charged.
President Ghani, who had been briefed on the arrests after the arrests began on 10 December by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, had assigned First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former NDS chief who is credited with resurrecting the Afghan intelligence agency, to deal with the case.
As expected, on his Facebook page, Amrullah Saleh, who releases pointers from his security briefings, put out what appeared to be a cryptic denial of the arrest of Chinese nationals on 27 December.
No foreign citizen was detained during the Khairkhaneh area effort operation. The arrested ones are the palmadis under the scope. A number of them have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in kidnapping and assassination,” said the First Vice President of Afghanistan.
Amrullah Saleh had previously conveyed Kabul’s offer to release the 10 spies to Chinese envoy Wang Yu if Beijing submits a formal apology that acknowledges that Kabul’s faith is in breach of international standards and a betrayal. It was learned at this meeting that Ambassador Wang Yu insisted that Kabul did not declare the detention. In mid-December, an investigative report by an Australian newspaper had already highlighted how members of the Chinese Communist Party had infiltrated some of the world’s strong and prominent agencies, including Western countries’ consulates and security agencies.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not make a remark on the espionage module that had been busted in Kabul.
A senior diplomat in Kabul shared it was one of the leading news channels earlier that at least two of the 10 Chinese nationals – Li Yangyang and Sha Hung – were in contact with the Haqqani Network which is the infamous sword-arm terrorist group of Taliban. Although Li Yangyang was informed to have been working for Chinese intelligence since July-August, Sha Hung used to operate a restaurant in Kabul’s Shirpur.
Arms, ammunition and Ketamine powder, a recreational drug, were confiscated by the NDS team from Li Yangyang’s house in Kart-e-western Char’s Kabul neighborhood when the first round of raids was carried out on 10 December.
The Afghan security establishment has been claiming that the 10 detainees in Afghanistan were establishing a fake East Turkestan of Islamic Movement (ETIM) module for the purpose of trapping the ETIM operatives in Afghanistan.
In Xinjiang Province, home to China’s ethnic minority Uighur Muslims, ETIM is a small Islamic separatist group alleged to be active. Its founder, Hasan Mahsum, a Uyghur from the Kashgar area of Xinjiang, was shot dead by Pakistani troops in 2003. Islamabad played alongside China, which was accused of operating camps in the Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps.
Rights groups say that China uses the threat of ETIM as an excuse to enforce restrictions on Uyghur and undermine human rights activists outside China. Last month, the United States revoked the terror tag slapped on ETIM, while the UN Security Council continues to label the group.