Witnesses to knife attacks contradict police reports

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 September, 2009, 12:00am

Police yesterday blamed a drunken man for the deadly knife attacks that killed at least two people and injured 14 others in Beijing's Dashilan shopping area on Thursday evening - but their version appeared to contradict witness reports.

Extra forces were deployed to busy areas of the capital as security intensified ahead of National Day celebrations on October 1.

Beijing police identified Zhang Jianfei, a 46-year-old Jilin native, as the sole suspect in the attack, despite witness accounts obtained by overseas newspapers and websites that three men were involved in the killings.

Without explaining the motive for the attack, police said Zhang was found to be drunk after the incident and a background check showed a history of causing disturbances while intoxicated back in Jilin.

However witnesses reported having seen three men stabbing people and running for their lives after an angry crowd realised what had happened and turned on them.

Three groups of witnesses who were discussing the incident at the scene on Thursday night told the South China Morning Post they saw two suspects running away, while the third was knocked down by the angry crowd. Police officers arrived shortly afterwards and detained the man.

Their accounts mean two attackers are still at large in the capital, which is preparing for the massive celebration and an influx of tourists during the National Day holiday.

Police did not explain how a drunken man was able to kill two people and injure 14, and then run 100 metres down a narrow alley before being stopped. Xinhua quoted police as saying 'investigations are ongoing'.

The incident came at a time when senior leaders of the Communist Party were gathering in Beijing for the fourth plenary session of the 17th Party Congress, which concluded yesterday.

It also happened one day before Beijing held a rehearsal for the parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

When the incident happened at 6.54pm, hundreds of security personnel were gathered in Tiananmen Square, less than a kilometre away, and workers were putting up lights and decorations for the festivities.

The attack appeared to catch Beijing police off guard, just two days after the city imposed its highest security standard. All people entering by road, rail or air must pass through strict security. Nearly one million volunteers have been mobilised to patrol the city around the clock.

A Beijing police officer in Dongcheng district, who preferred not to be named, said urgent notices about intensifying security around shopping areas and landmarks had been issued for rank and file officers shortly after the incident.

'The bottom line is: whenever a person in a crowded area looks around, uniformed officers must be seen,' the officer said. 'We have to make sure every corner of our assigned area is closely watched, and we have to be ready to respond to emergencies within seconds.'

Beijing's security network was the most stringent in the country and had been tested during last year's Olympic Games, said Li Wei , director of the Centre for Anti-terrorism Research at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

'But even such a sophisticated system could not totally prevent the attack [in Dashilan], because there is no effective way to predict when an individual would go crazy.'

Beijing police had not released updated information on the incident as of late yesterday, and state media stuck to the official line, identifying the man as a drunken troublemaker.