Police said they found flags imprinted with religious slogans among items in the SUV used in the attack and at the temporary lodgings of five arrested suspects.

With Chinese officials on Friday saying the terrorist outfit the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was behind Monday’s attack in Tiananmen Square that killed five, top terrorism experts here have said this week’s incident had underlined “a new challenge” that is likely to significantly alter China’s internal and external approaches to combating terror.

China’s security “czar” Meng Jianzhu, who heads the powerful Commission for Political and Legal Affairs — which controls the security apparatus and courts — and sits on the 25-member Politburo, told Hong Kong media outlets that the ETIM was “the group that stood behind the scenes inciting” the attack.

The group has in the past claimed responsibility for several attacks in Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority region in China’s far west.

It has also campaigned for independence for the Uighurs, the Turkic group native to Xinjiang that is one of China’s 55 minorities.

Police authorities in Beijing, releasing new details on Friday, said eight people, comprising three families and one individual, had set up a group in September to plan the attack, even conducting at least three scouting missions on Tiananmen Square.

Police officials said the group hailed from Hotan, a city in Xinjiang’s south, close to the border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The group had acquired funds of 40,000 RMB (Rs. four lakh), as well as Tibetan knives and 400 litres of petrol, used to set the car on fire.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday said the ETIM had “incited, organised and committed terrorist attacks of various forms over the years and spread the ideas of violence and terrorism”.

“It has been the most direct and real threat to our security, and has damaged the security of other countries and regions,” spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters.

Experts have, however, been divided on the actual reach — and capabilities — of the ETIM.

Ms. Hua said the group was “based in South, Central and West Asia” and had “connections with many other terrorist groups”.

Pan Zhiping, an expert on terrorism issues at Xinjiang University, told The Hindu in an interview that he was of the opinion that the attack bore the signature of the ETIM and was “definitely an organised activity”.

“It is a new challenge for China, and China will make every effort to break the terrorists’ momentum,” said Mr. Pan, a long-time resident of Xinjiang. “We might need some emergency plans,” he added.

Officials in Xinjiang have, in the past, blamed the ETIM’s overseas members, chiefly those active in reported camps in Pakistan, for fomenting attacks in Hotan, the city from where eight of those alleged to have been involved in Monday’s attack hailed.

The issue has become an irritant in China’s otherwise “all-weather” relationship with Pakistan, with Chinese officials privately bemoaning Pakistan’s inability to crack down on terror groups even as Beijing goes ahead with deepening strategic ties in other areas.

Mr. Pan said it was, as yet, unclear whether overseas members were involved in Monday’s incident.

“The Pakistan government is very nice to the Chinese government, but some people from ETIM are hiding in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

“It is possible that those in exile in Pakistan are directing this terrorist act.” (Sisi Tang contributed to reporting.)

Experts have, however, been divided on the actual reach — and capabilities — of the ETIM.

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