Chinese police have identified two people as having links to the crash of a sport-utility vehicle near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that killed five, while falling short of calling the incident a terrorist attack.
One person is from Shanshan county and another from Pishan county in the far western region of Xinjiang, a police official said yesterday. The region has experienced sporadic protests by ethnic Uighurs against Chinese rule. The names of the suspects suggest they are not Han Chinese, the person said.
While about 90 percent of China’s population is ethnic Han, more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s 22 million people are Uighurs, some of whom have protested the Beijing government’s decades-long policy of encouraging Han migration to the area, as well as restrictions on religious freedom. Xinjiang was the scene of clashes in 2009 between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and the ethnic Han that left almost 200 people dead.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not comment on whether the crash was linked to suspects from Xinjiang.
“We do admit that there are some violent and terrorist acts in Xinjiang,” Hua said at a briefing yesterday in Beijing. “I believe every government, including the Chinese government, will strongly oppose and crack down on such incidents so as to ensure the safety and security of society and the property and lives of the people.”
Pictures of the crash posted by users of Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like Weibo service showed a vehicle in flames at the scene, billowing smoke. The vehicle plowed through a crowd of tourists around noon on Oct. 28 and struck a guardrail at the gate, which is just north of Tiananmen Square and an entrance to the Forbidden City, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Police are looking for four cars that might have be linked to the crash and have asked hotels to submit information about suspicious guests and vehicles parked in the area, the police official said.
Of those killed, three were inside the vehicle and the other two were tourists from the Philippines and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Xinhua reported. Philippine and Japanese nationals were among the injured, it said. Thirty-eight people were injured in the crash and fire, Xinhua reported.
“The relevant government departments are investigating the incident and will take effective measures to ensure the safety and stability of the capital,” Hua said.
Domestic media reporting on the incident has been limited. The Beijing News, Beijing Times and the Beijing Youth Daily all published Xinhua’s Chinese-language article and none carried photos of the crash.
The site of the crash near Tiananmen gate, where the portrait of Mao Zedong hangs, attracts throngs of tourists during the day. Tiananmen square, located in the center of the capital, has been subject to tight security since the government violently put down student protests there in 1989. Individuals and their belongings are subject to security screenings before entering. In 2009 three people inside a car set themselves on fire a few blocks from the square.
Earlier this year, a wheelchair-bound man set off a homemade bomb at Beijing’s international airport to protest what he said was a beating by police in 2005. He lost his hand in the July blast and a police officer suffered minor injuries.