Chinese cops nab 5 suspects in Tiananmen attack

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BEIJING -- Chinese authorities have captured five suspects in a fatal car crash on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, state media said Wednesday, describing the incident as a “terrorist attack” for the first time.

“The arrests were made 10 hours after the incident, which has now been identified as a terrorist attack,” broadcaster CCTV said on its verified English-language microblog account.

CCTV said the three people in the car, all of whom died, were from the same family, and another five people had been arrested in connection with the case.

Police had alerted hotels in the capital to look out for eight suspects from China’s restive Xinjiang region after the incident, which killed two tourists, including a Filipino woman, and injured dozens in the symbolic heart of the Chinese state.

The suspects appeared mostly to be from China’s mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, who are concentrated in far-western Xinjiang, and the names CCTV gave for the three people in the vehicle appeared to be Uighur.

Beijing has blamed Uighur groups for what it calls “terrorist” attacks in Xinjiang, but details of alleged incidents are hard to confirm, and exile groups accuse China of exaggerating the threat to justify religious and cultural restrictions.

In the incident on Monday, a sport utility vehicle (SUV) veered inside a barrier separating a crowded sidewalk from a busy avenue and then plowed through pedestrians as it sped toward Tiananmen Gate, where it crashed into a stone structure near a large portrait of Mao Zedong, which hangs near the entrance to the former imperial palace, and burst into flames.


Suicide attack?

The vehicle’s three occupants were also killed in the crash.

The Philippine Medical Association identified the Filipino woman as Rizalina Bunyi, an obstetrician and gynecologist. Her husband, pediatrician Nelson Bunyi, and two children were injured in the crash.

State-run media previously said that police were looking for two men from Xinjiang in China’s far west, which is home to the majority of China’s Uighur population.

The new police notice, issued on Tuesday, did not state the suspects’ ethnic backgrounds, but seven of their names were among those commonly used by Uighurs.

The notice included the two men from the earlier notification, one of them from Lukqun, where state media said 35 people were killed in June in what Beijing called a “terrorist attack.”

The last suspect’s name appeared to be from China’s Han ethnic majority. He was born in 1992 and lived in “police family apartments” in Xinjiang, the notice read out by hotel staff said. The oldest suspect was listed as born in 1943.

No Uighur group has claimed responsibility for Monday’s crash, which struck at the symbolic center of the Chinese state.

A statement from the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group that Beijing has condemned, said that suspicions that Uighurs were responsible could lead to stepped-up government repression.


East Turkestan

“Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uighur people more than I ever have,” World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement issued from Washington on Wednesday.

East Turkestan is the name that the activist organization uses to refer to Xinjiang, where Uighurs make up 46 percent of the population.

The group added that it feared the response by authorities in Beijing would “lead to further demonization of the Uighur people and incite a fierce state crackdown” in Xinjiang.

“The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing, so as to further impose repressive measures on the Uighur people,” Kadeer said.

Xinjiang is a sparsely populated but strategically important area that borders several central Asian countries. It is periodically hit by violent clashes, including riots in the region’s capital Urumqi in 2009 which left around 200 dead, but information is often hard to obtain.

Police have arrested at least 139 people in Xinjiang in recent months for allegedly spreading jihad, according to state-run media.


In August, state-run media said that a policeman had been killed in an “antiterrorism” operation—although overseas reports said 22 Uighurs died in the incident. Reports from AFP and AP.