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Tiananmen car crash suicide attack but mysteries remain

world Updated: Oct 30, 2013 02:39 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Police in Beijing have linked Monday's car crash at Tiananmen Square to a suicide attack allegedly carried out by a group of suspects from the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China's far-west which borders Central Asia.

An SUV had ploughed into a group of people in front of the popular tourist dest ination, Forbidden City, Monday noon, killing five and injuring at least 38 others.

The three passengers in the car were killed in the blaze that was reportedly caused by inflammable material hidden inside the vehicle; two tourists including one from Philippines were killed at the spot.

The state-run Global Times reported about the Xinjiang connection to incident on Tuesday.

But the Chinese government's official news agency, Xinhua, continued to call it a "car crash" till late this evening, deepening the mystery behind it.

On Monday, the government had moved swiftly to censor news about the incident and have since shared little information.

"Relevant departments are making all out efforts to investigate," Hua Chunying, foreign ministry spokesperson told a regular press briefing.

But according to GT, within hours of the incident a lookout notice was issued for two persons who were identified to be from XUAR that has experienced sporadic but intense ethnic violence in the past few years.

Once the majority in the province, Uyghurs, numbering around 8 million in XUAR, are now second in number to the Han community after years of government-encouraged migration.

From a police notice quoted by the state media, it appeared that the two Uyghur suspects were on the run.

A city-wide alert issued Monday night that asked hotels to be wary of "suspicious guests".

"The police notice said that a 'major case had taken place on Monday' and named two residents of Pishan county and Shanshan county of XUAR as likely suspects," state-run Global Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The police also dispatched notices to several hotels in Beijing, asking the management to look out for "suspicious guest".

"…the police sent a notice to hotels in Beijing, in which hotel management were asked to look out for 'suspicious guests' that had visited hotels since October 1. The police also sought information on 'suspicious vehicles'," the report said.

It added that the police also described a light-colored SUV, and four license number plates, all starting with the regional character showing they were from Xinjiang, in the notice.

Many details remain sketchy about Monday's incident which occurred near a pedestrian street between the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Unusually, the police cleaned up the scene of crime with water within a couple of hours of the incident; usually, crime scenes are preserved before detailed forensic tests are carried out for evidence.

The government also swiftly censored information on the incident, removing photos and updates about it from China's popular social media network, Weibo.

Beijing blames the violence on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), claiming that shadowy group is attempting to incite separatism in the province and trying to destabilise regional stability and development.

Uyghur groups based abroad say that government is exaggerating the ETIM threat and blames the violence on its policies that treat the community as second-class citizens.

In the past few years, several Uyghur men have been given death sentence or long jail terms for inciting separatism.

The region saw the worst violence in 2009 when nearly 200 people died after Uyghurs clashed with the majority Han community members.

For the ruling Communist Party of China, the site of the crime was also sensitive.

The Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are two of the most tightly guarded places in China. Besides being of immense political and historical significance, the two places next to some of China's most important political institutions like the Great Hall of the People and Zhongnanhai which serves as the headquarters for the CPC leadership.