A tabloid newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party claimed Thursday that three Chinese citizens who had taken up arms with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had been executed as traitors.
The paper, quoting an unnamed Iraqi Kurdish security official, said one of the Chinese was killed in September after he became disillusioned with Islamic State and decided he wanted to study at a university in Turkey. The other two were beheaded in December along with 11 other fighters of other nationalities, the paper said.
Islamic State recently executed two Japanese nationals it had captured after Tokyo refused to pay a ransom or help arrange a prisoner exchange for them. The group also killed a Jordanian pilot last month. But the extremist fighters have made no demands or videos related to Chinese citizens. China's Foreign Ministry, at a regular news briefing Thursday, refused to comment directly on the report.
China has been expressing increasing alarm about the number of its citizens leaving the country bound for Turkey. Hundreds of Chinese -- most believed to be ethnic Uighurs from the far western province of Xinjiang -- have been caught in recent months trying to sneak out of China without passports, and into southeast Asian countries including Vietnam.
China says these migrants are Islamic extremists aiming to join the Islamic State jihad and possibly bring the fight back to Xinjiang. But a number of Uighur migrants interviewed in Turkey said they paid human smugglers thousands of dollars to take them out of China to escape discrimination and persecution in China.
In January, the Global Times broke a story about 10 Turkish nationals being detained in Shanghai and charged with attempting to help nine Chinese flee China on altered passports. The 10 are expected to go on trial this month.
Tommy Yang in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.