Tiananmen crash: China police 'seek Xinjiang suspects'

Police have named two suspects linked to a "major incident"

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Police in China have named two suspects linked to a "major incident" in Beijing, after a deadly car crash in Tiananmen Square, state media report.

The vehicle crashed into a crowd and burst into flames, killing five people.

Police subsequently issued a notice to hotels in Beijing seeking information about two people from Xinjiang province, Chinese media said.

The note also described a vehicle and four number plates from Xinjiang, the scene of sporadic violent incidents.

State-run Xinhua news agency said that of the five people who died on Monday, three people died inside the car.

The two men police want information about have Uighur names and come from areas in Xinjiang where there has been significant violence.

One man is from Lukun in Shanshan county, where around 30 people died in June this year. A BBC team were prevented from reaching the scene.

The second "suspect" is from Pishan county where seven "terrorists" were shot dead by police in 2011.

There have been many more violent incidents and dozens of deaths across Xinjiang in the past five years. Often these have involved clashes between Uighurs and local police, government and security personnel.

Authorities usually blame "separatists" and "terrorists" who they say are inspired, funded and trained from abroad. But in many areas there are significant local grievances among Uighur Muslims who resent restrictive measures directed at their religious and cultural practices.

The events in Beijing, whether linked to Xinjiang or not, are likely to cause real concern. They happened just a few hundred metres from where China's leaders will gather, at the Great Hall of the People, in less than two weeks for a Communist Party Plenum. It is a major policy meeting to set the direction for China's future economic development.

A tourist from the Philippines and a tourist from Guangdong province were also killed. Another 38 people were injured, including three tourists from the Philippines and one from Japan, police said.

"We thought the jeep was heading for us, and my mother and I had no way to run from it. So we didn't move," said eyewitness Wang Dake, who was sent to hospital with shock and a knee injury.

"I thought that if the car was going to hit us, then we would die right there. But it hit the marble railing and didn't hit us," he added.

An unnamed tourist from Zhejiang province told China's state-controlled Global Times: "The vehicle ran very fast. I could hear people screaming all the way while the vehicle ploughed through the crowds."

Police cars were chasing the car before it crashed, she added.

Police shut down the scene of the incident - at the north end of the square at an entrance to the Forbidden City - shortly after it occurred, temporarily closing a subway station and a road.

A BBC crew attempting to record footage at the location were briefly detained, while on Chinese social media some pictures of the scene appeared to be quickly deleted and comments were heavily censored.

There has been no official statement on the cause of the incident.

Chinese security personnel direct tourists visiting Tiananmen Gate close to the site of Monday's incident where a car ploughed through a crowd before it crashed and burned in Beijing, China, 29 October 2013 Business as usual resumed at Tiananmen Square on Tuesday
Policemen walk past barriers and fire vehicles outside Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on 28 October 2013 Police say they are searching for two suspects linked to a "major incident"
A paramilitary policeman detains a woman who threw papers believed to be her petition papers near the main entrance of the Forbidden City. where the car crash happened, in Beijing, China, 29 October 2013 Tight security is deployed at the square to deter petitioners and protestors
Hotel notice

"A major incident has taken place on Monday," the police notice said, without specifying what. It named two residents from Xinjiang's Pishan and Shanshan counties as suspects.

The notice, unconfirmed images of which have been widely circulated on Chinese social media, also asked hotels to look out for "suspicious guests" and vehicles.

Global Times said it had confirmation from the Beijing police that the notice was genuine, although police did not comment on the "major incident" itself.

Zhao Fuzhou, a security official at Beijing's Xinjiang Dasha hotel, said that police had circulated a notice to hotels searching for information about two suspects with Uighur names, AP news agency reported.

Uighurs and Xinjiang

  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region's population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there was large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

Xinjiang is home to the minority Muslim Uighur group, some of whom complain of cultural and religious repression under Beijing's rule. There have been sporadic outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang, including in both Pishan and Shanshan counties. China says it grants the Uighurs wide-ranging freedoms.

In June, riots in Xingjian's Turpan prefecture, which is in Shanshan county, killed 27 people. State media said police opened fire after a mob armed with knives attacked police stations and a local government building.

In April another incident in the city of Kashgar left 21 people dead. The government said the violence was linked to terrorist activity, but local people told the BBC it involved a local family who had a longstanding dispute with officials over religious freedom.

One unconfirmed report said that the authorities suspected that Monday's incident was a suicide attack. Reuters news agency reported that an unnamed source with ties to the leadership had said that the crash looked "like a premeditated suicide attack".

On Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to say whether the incident was a suicide attack. "The relevant Chinese departments and authorities are carrying out an investigation into the incident," she said.

"At the same time, we admit that there are cases of violence and terror in some specific areas of Xinjiang," she said, adding that the government was resolutely opposed to acts of violence and terror.

If evidence of a Uighur link to the car blaze is confirmed, it would be the first time that such groups have carried out an attack in Beijing, correspondents say.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing says this would have serious repercussions for Xinjiang and the Chinese state, and would add to a sense that there really are serious troubles beneath the surface there.

Tiananmen Square is a highly sensitive site due to its link to China's 1989 pro-democracy protests, which were ended by a military crackdown.

The square is generally kept under very tight security both because of its proximity to key political institutions and so that is does not serve as a hub for protesters and petitioners, although incidents have nonetheless occurred there before.

Map of Tiananmen

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