NEW: Five people detained in connection with deadly crash, police say
China censors images of jeep that plowed into Tiananmen Square, killing 5
Uyghur diaspora group says it's too early to assign blame
Five suspects have been detained in Monday’s deadly crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which has been identified as a terrorist attack, Beijing police said Wednesday.
The attack – in which five people died and dozens were hurt – was “carefully planned, organized and premeditated,” police said on their official Weibo account online.
Working with police in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Beijing police captured the suspects, a spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said.
The spokesman, who was not named, said Usmen Hasan; his mother, Kuwanhan Reyim; and his wife, Gulkiz Gini, drove a jeep bearing a Xinjiang license plate into a crowd in the famed square at noon on Monday, killing two people and injuring another 40.
Authorities had earlier put the number of injured at 38.
The jeep then crashed into a guardrail of Jinshui Bridge across the moat of the Forbidden City. All three of the jeep’s occupants died when they set gasoline afire, the spokesman said. The other two fatalities were tourists; a woman from the Philippines and a Chinese man.
Police found gasoline, two knives and steel sticks “as well as a flag with extremist religious content” in the jeep, the police posting said.
In addition, authorities found knives and a “jihad” flag in the temporary residence of the five detained suspects, it added.
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.
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.
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.
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 and CNN’s Aliza Kassim and Tom Watkins in Atlanta contributed to this report