China suspects Tiananmen crash was suicide attack - sources
Five killed and dozens injured when vehicle hit pedestrians at Beijing square
People walk along the sidewalk of Chang’an Avenue as smoke raises in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City at Tiananmen Square in Beijing Photograph: Stringer/Reuters
Visitors stand on a line to go through a security check at an underway passage connecting from the Forbidden City to the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
A police car is parked in front of the giant portrait of late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong at the main entrance of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
A paramilitary policeman stands guard in front of the giant portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at the main entrance of the Forbidden City in Beijing, Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Chinese authorities suspect suicide attackers drove the vehicle that ploughed into pedestrians at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and set it on fire, killing five people including the three inside, sources told Reuters today.
At least 38 people were injured in yesterday’s incident at Tiananmen, part of the closely guarded heart of the Chinese government, but there has been no official word whether it was an accident or an attack.
Authorities suspect the incident was an attack just ahead of November’s key conclave of the ruling Communist Party’s elite 205-member Central Committee at which major economic reforms are expected to be announced, a source with direct knowledge of the case and a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters.
“It looks like a premeditated suicide attack,” the source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions for talking to the foreign media.
Police are still investigating and have yet to determine the identities of the three people in the vehicle, according to the sources. But Beijing police said late yesterday they were looking for two suspects from the restive far western region of Xinjiang in connection with a “major incident”.
The sources said that the men were suspected of lighting a flammable material on the vehicle.
“It was no accident. The jeep knocked down barricades and rammed into pedestrians. The three men had no plans to flee from the scene,” said the source who has ties to the leadership.
A Reuters reporter at the scene at the time said he did not heard any gunshots. Last night, hours after the fire, Beijing police issued a notice asking local hotels about suspicious guests who had checked in since October 1st and named two suspects it said were from Xinjiang. Four hotels told Reuters they had received the notice.
Judging by their names, the suspects appeared to be ethnic Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims from Xinjiang. Many Uighurs chafe at Chinese controls on their culture and religion.
“To prevent the suspected persons and vehicles from committing further crimes ... please notify law enforcement of any discovery of clues regarding these suspects and the vehicles,” said the notice, which was widely circulated on Chinese microblogs. The notice also listed four vehicle licence plates from Xinjiang.
Beijing police, contacted by telephone, declined to comment. Yesterday, the police said on their official microblog only that they were investigating the accident, and did not say if they thought it was an attack. Calls to the Xinjiang government went unanswered.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked whether the government believed the incident was a terror attack, declined to comment, repeating a previous statement that the incident was being investigated.
Police said yesterday the sports utility vehicle veered off the road at the north of the square, a major tourist attraction, crossed the barriers and caught fire almost directly in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City, in front of a huge portrait of the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.