BEIJING – Chinese officials are investigating the car crash that killed five people on Monday in Tiananmen Square. Authorities are looking into whether there is a link to Xinjiang province and trying to determine whether the incident was an accident or premeditated attack.
Meanwhile, censors move quickly to remove images taken in the immediate aftermath of the crash from Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter.
State-run news agencies have not mentioned what motivated the crash or the identities of the three passengers inside. But late Monday Beijing police issued a notice naming two men as suspects – a 25-year-old and 42-year-old man from Pishan and Shanshan counties in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The notice was circulated to local hotels in Beijing with a warning that the individuals possessed several license plates:
“To prevent the suspected persons and vehicles from committing further crimes…please notify law enforcement of any discovery of clues regarding these suspects and vehicles,” the notice said.
It was in Shanshan, 150 miles southwest of Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi, where 35 people died in clashes with police last June. Many in the Uighur community there blame unrest on Chinese controls of Uighur culture and religion. The Chinese in turn blame Uighur extremists for attacks that have taken place in Xijiang and have clamped down hard in recent years.
Scant details describing the aftermath of the incident made it into the national press. But online videos showed the damage to be severe, with bloodied victims on the street and sidewalk as flames engulfed the SUV and black smoke rose into the air in front of Chairman Mao Zedong’s portrait.
Tiananmen Square, a landmark of political protest in China and to this day a highly sensitive site, is heavily guarded with paramilitary officers and police. Cameras are always rolling and emergency teams are consistently in place to respond to any situation. Within hours the entire area was cleared of debris, with even blood cleaned from the sidewalk and emergency vehicles gone.