China accused the United States of having a "double standard" in its opposition to terrorism, a line of criticism that springs from the U.S. position towards a persecuted ethnic minority that Chinese government officials accuse of significant terrorist activities.

The Defense Department transferred three Uighur Chinese nationals to Slovakia over the objection of the Chinese government.

"They are terrorists without any doubt," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday. "They will not only pose severe threat to China's national security, but also to that of the recipient country. China hopes that relevant countries could earnestly fulfill international obligations, do not provide those who commit terrorist crimes with safe haven and send those suspects back to China at an early date."

A federal judge ordered the detainees released in 2008, after attorneys representing the Uighurs argued that they had fled from China to Afghanistan (the Uighurs are predominantly Muslim) before the U.S. invasion in 2001. The Uighurs fled to Pakistan, where, their lawyers said, their new hosts sold them to U.S. forces in order to collect a bounty on terrorists.

The United States entrusted the Uighurs to Slovakia based on confidence that they would receive "humane treatment" there, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a Dec. 21 statement — treatment they would not receive in China, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.

Chinese denunciations of the U.S. intensified moments after the Foreign Ministry spokesman talked about the detainee transfer, when Harf's responses to a recent clash between Uighurs and Chinese security forces became the topic of the briefing.

"We continue to call on the Chinese government to permit its citizens to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully, and without fear of retribution," she said on Dec 30. "We also call on Uighurs to not resort to violence, for the Chinese security forces to exercise restraint, so we’ll keep monitoring it."

Such a statement amounts to an American "double standard" with respect to terrorism, according to Qin Gang.

"We urge the U.S. to discard the 'double standard' on the issue of counterterrorism, immediately stop the behavior of saying one thing and doing another, refrain from sending a wrong signal to the violent terrorist force and take concrete actions to uphold international counterterrorism cooperation," he said Thursday.

Chinese government media say nine Uighurs attacked a police station in Xinjiang last week, but the Uighurs counter that Chinese security forces use the terrorism charge as a "pretext" for cracking down on the Muslim minority.

"This incident testifies to a recent trend of state-sponsored violence used to quell Uighur dissent, whereby authorities ignore due process of the law, shoot and kill Uighurs, label them terrorists, and then use counterterrorism to justify the unlawful killings," World Uighur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer said of the violence.

Harf reiterated U.S. opposition to attacks on civilian populations, but emphasized that the United States is still gathering the facts on what happened in the Xinjiang region.