Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

China censors pounce as Tiananmen Square jeep deaths investigated

By Steven Jiang and Katie Hunt, CNN
updated 10:47 PM EDT, Tue October 29, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China censors images of jeep that plowed into Tiananmen Square, killing 5
  • Police are looking for suspects from the restive western region of Xinjiang, source says
  • NEW: Uighur diaspora group says it's too early to assign blame
  • Analyst: Incident could be considered a major loss of face for Beijing

Beijing (CNN) -- Chinese authorities have made a concerted effort to censor images and online accounts of a jeep that plowed into crowds in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing five and injuring 38, amid suggestions police are looking for suspects from the restive western region of Xinjiang.

While the cause or motive for Monday's crash remains unclear, one manager at a five-star hotel in Beijing, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, told CNN that the city's hotels had received a notice from local police requesting assistance in the investigation of a "major incident" late on Monday.

It listed four people with names that suggested they belonged to the Uighur ethnic group that comes from Xinjiang Province, where tensions between Han Chinese and the largely Muslim Uighurs have sometimes turned violent.

READ: 5 dead after jeep crashes and catches fires in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

5 dead in Tiananmen Square car crash

The notice also listed four vehicles -- including two cars and a motorcycle -- with license plate numbers from Xinjiang and asked hotels to keep a look out for suspicious guests that may have stayed in the capital from October 1.

A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a diaspora group, said it was too early to blame Uighurs and the group was concerned over the the lack of transparency surrounding the incident.

"Every time something like this happens, authorities usually point fingers at Uighurs," Alim Seytoff said. "The notice should not be taken as the evidence of Uighur involvement in the incident."

Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Center for China Studies, said the incident, taking place in China's most important and sensitive public space, would be considered a major loss of face for Beijing's leadership, especially if it turned out to be related to Uighur separatism.

"It was close to the Zhongnanhai party headquarters and, in terms of timing, it's on the eve of the plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party so they don't want these rumors and speculation," he said.

"According to eye witness reports I've read online, the jeep was driving at people. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to create havoc and a number of casualties," he said.

Earlier this month, Chinese police said they had arrested 139 people in Xinjiang for spreading religious extremism online. The arrests came in the wake of riots that left 35 people dead.

While a number of Chinese media outlets reported Monday's incident, their accounts stuck to the bare-bones details published by the official Xinhua news agency.

No footage was shown on CCTV, China's state broadcaster, and the images that appeared immediately after the incident on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, showing black smoke and a vehicle engulfed in flames, were largely deleted. Searches combining the words Tiananmen, terrorism and car crash were also blocked.

CNN broadcasts about the incident were blacked out inside China.

Lam said Chinese media outlets had likely received an official order to stick to Xinhua's version of events.

However, the English-language Global Times, which is state-run but not regarded as an official mouthpiece, reported that police were looking for two suspects from Xinjiang in connection with the jeep, which was described as light colored with Xinjiang plates.

Of the five people killed, three were the vehicle's driver and two passengers and the other two were tourists; a woman from the Philippines and a Chinese man.

Authorities moved quickly to tackle the blaze and clear up the scene on Monday. On Tuesday, the square was back to normal.

CNN's David McKenzie and Feng Ke in Beijing contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 2:01 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
CNN's Brian Stelter talks with CCTV correspondent Jim Spellman on how the Chinese media has covered MH370's mystery.
China's economy has bested many others in just the past 10 years.
updated 2:02 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
In China, users of the "Life Black Box" website can set up final farewells to their friends in case they suddenly die.
updated 1:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
A recent university study claims Chinese micro-blogging activity might not be as vibrant as expected.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chinese art has been fetching some serious cash -- here's how we can elbow into the market
updated 10:51 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
A Shanghainese collector paid $36 million for this tiny cup decorated with chickens.
updated 2:57 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Ben Richardson on corruption in China: a veil of secrecy shrouds the links between power and wealth.
China's economy is slowing and growth in 2014 could fall short of the government's official target, according to a CNNMoney survey of economists.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is the first foreigner to visit the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning.
updated 9:26 PM EDT, Sun April 6, 2014
If the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 caused a rift in China-Malaysia relations, the two countries appear to have put it behind them.
updated 1:17 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Martin Jacques argues that in the twenty-first century, China will challenge our perception of what it is to be modern.
A new survey of university students in China shows where they most want to work. What are the dream employers for Chinese students?
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
What are President Xi Jinping's greatest goals as he visits the EU headquarters in Brussels?
Last year, thousands of Chinese tourists flocked to Yellowstone National Park to view the mountains, the buffalo and Old Faithful.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
A senior Bloomberg News journalist quit his role earlier this month, saying the "mishandling" by his bosses of a story critical of China was behind his departure.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
"The aim is to let [families of MH370 passengers] express anger while keeping them restrained," says a Chinese official.
updated 9:58 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama's secret weapon in China? Michelle.
updated 10:53 PM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
Private schools that employ humanistic pedagogy for young children are becoming popular in China. A look at the factors behind the boom and potential pitfalls.
ADVERTISEMENT