Police notice to hotels names two residents from Pishan and Shanshan "likely suspects"

Police authorities in Beijing have issued search notices for two “suspects” from the far western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, hours after five people were killed and 38 others injured in Tiananmen Square when a jeep drove into a crowd of people and burst into flames on Monday morning.

Police sent a notice to hotels in Beijing late on Monday evening, naming two residents from Pishan and Shanshan, counties in the Xinjiang region, “likely suspects” in “a major case,” reported the Global Times, a tabloid published by the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper.

Suggesting that the suspects were involved in “a major case,” the notice listed four licence number plates linked to a search for a light-coloured Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). All four licence plates were from Xinjiang, the notice said.

While the Global Times suggested the search for the Xinjiang suspects was linked to Monday’s crash, which also involved a light-coloured SUV, police authorities and Chinese officials have so far not commented on the identities of the driver and two passengers of the car, who were killed.

Two tourists — a man from southern Guangdong and a woman from the Philippines — were also killed as the car drove into a crowd of people. The Philippines government on Tuesday confirmed that one woman was killed, while her husband and two daughters are being treated in a Beijing hospital.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said investigations were still on-going, when asked about the reported Xinjiang link to the attack.

“No accident”

Testimonies from witnesses posted on Chinese social media websites suggested the crash was no accident, with the driver of the car appearing to intend to cause as much damage as possible as the SUV weaved through barricades to reach the crowd of tourists in front of the iconic Tiananmen gate, which bears a portrait of Mao Zedong. The car “burst into flames” after colliding into a guard rail, police officials said.

Xinjiang has seen intermittent unrest between native Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic Turkic group, and majority Han Chinese. The region has witnessed similar attacks where cars have driven into crowded market places. Shanshan county, where one of the two suspects was reported to have come from, witnessed violence in June when at least two dozen people were killed when attackers armed with knives stormed a police station and government building. Eleven attackers were shot by police.

Knife attacks on market places, where crude home-made explosives have also been detonated, have also been reported in the cities of Kashgar and Hotan, where more than 30 people were killed in 2011 in the worst violence seen since the 2009 riots in Urumqi, the regional capital, that left at least 197 people killed. Uighurs have blamed the riots on increasing tensions between the two ethnic groups, which they say has been sparked by the Chinese policies that have enabled increasing migration of Han Chinese and fuelled local resentment.

The Chinese government has blamed the recent violent incidents on separatist Uighur groups, and has claimed that some groups have ties to terror outfits in Pakistan.

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