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A murder mystery hits home

world Updated: Aug 11, 2008 23:25 IST
Reshma Patil

Soon after the murder of the American father-in-law of a US volleyball coach rocked day one of the Beijing Olympics, Australia’s delegation advised its athletes to wear team gear while shopping or sightseeing, so that security and volunteers can keep an eye on them.

Authorities said the attack on Minneapolis-based Todd Bachman and wife Barbara, who is battling stab injuries after an eight-hour surgery, was an isolated incident.

The unemployed assailant who reportedly visited Beijing from eastern Hangzhou to petition the government, took the motive with him as he plunged from the dramatic crime scene: a 13th century, 130-foot-high Drum Tower that once told the night time with drumbeats.

The Tower was sealed, with a notice thanking visitors for ‘understanding,’ as all tourist sites began checks for sharp weapons.

Over a million foreigners live in Beijing, which is safer than Mumbai and Delhi, with a low crime rate.

But security has peaked with five lakh visiting foreigners, the largest one-time influx in modern China at a time when its citizens react fervently to western criticism.

An unusual notice in this correspondent’s expat tower, displayed even before the murder, calls for ‘attention to safety during the Olympics’. A staffer said local police asked them to display it. Excerpts:

“To ensure safety and maintain social harmony…always alert your track to avoid criminal tail when you come back to the apartment. If you watch any suspicious person wandering in the common area, please ask us for immediate handling. If you discover any suspicious pack or article, please don’t touch…’’

The US Embassy’s online December 2007 guide on China says that ‘violence against foreigners, while rare, is on the increase. Over the past year, incidents of violence against foreigners, including sexual assaults, have taken place usually where bars and nightclubs are located. Robberies, sometimes at gunpoint, have occurred in western China and more recently in Beijing.’’

The Embassy said the attack on the Bachmans, parents of a former Olympian, was not related to nationality. But the 2007 advisory cautioned that ‘nationalism is on the rise and disputes between Chinese and foreigners can quickly escalate. There have been reports of bar fights in which Americans have been specifically targeted due to nationality.’’

Expats share a more positive experience. “Beijing is the safest city I’ve ever visited,’’ says Indian-American lawyer Serwat Perwaiz, who moved here from Washington over two years ago. “I never feel threatened. I can take risks alone, that I would not take in any other city.’’