At least one person died and eight others were injured after a series of explosions caused by homemade bombs near the Shanxi Communist Party Committee offices in the provincial capital of Taiyuan on Wednesday.
The blasts occurred at around 7.40am when a bomb that had apparently been placed in the flowerbeds almost directly in front of the main entrance of the Shanxi provincial government building went off, a spokesperson at the Shanxi provincial government said, citing Taiyuan police. Within seconds, a minivan exploded several hundred metres away, according to eyewitnesses.
The injured victims were sent to two hospitals near the explosion area. One of the injured was in serious condition and two cars were also damaged, the provincial government website said, citing police. The explosions were triggered by small explosive devices, it added.
Metal ball bearings and circuit devices were found at the site of the explosions, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, pointing to a manufactured attack. Witnesses have shared photos of metal pellets and nails on Sina Weibo.
National broadcaster CCTV said more than twenty vehicles have been damaged, while Xinhua suggested the bombs were hidden within the provincial party committee's compound.
Windows of passing buses were shattered by the explosions, which were felt hundreds of metres away, onlookers wrote on local web forums.
The area erupted into pandemonium when the first blast went off during the morning rush hour, and panicked victims started to scatter, some of whom were bleeding, several bystanders and eyewitnesses from the scene told the South China Morning Post.
“I thought it was fireworks when the first bomb went off,” a witness recalled. “Then a minivan not very far behind me went off, and I saw it exploded in a haze of smoke and people were crying and running. I realised that it might be some kind of attack, and then I just kept running.”
The person, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he heard five or six explosions in total. Some mainland media, including the Beijing Youth Daily, reported that seven explosions had occurred.
Another person said he heard the blasts from his apartment nearby, and saw rescue workers and about 100 armed policemen rushing to the scene. He said more than 20 vehicles had been shattered by the explosions, and many bystanders later found scattered metal ball bearings and long nails near the explosion area.
The streets around the building were closed off until around 10.30am, according to Taiyuan police. Photos shared on social media showed fire engines and ambulances at the scene.
It was unclear who might be responsible for the blast. The resource-rich Shanxi has a relatively noticeable wealth gap between the coal mine owners and the poorer mine workers.
Speculation as to the motive behind the explosions quickly began circulating on Chinese social media. The incident comes at a time when Chinese public security officials are on alert following last week's terrorist attack in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as well as preparing for the Communist Party plenum beginning on Saturday.
Last Monday, an SUV rammed through barricades and burst into flames in Tiananmen Square, killing five and wounding more than 40 people. The Chinese government has blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Uygur militant group, as the organisation behind the alleged terrorist attack.
A Xinjiang top military official was removed from his post soon after the incident.
Also last week, a team of graft investigators from Beijing arrived in Taiyuan to conduct an in-depth review of the province's finances. Inspectors are expected to stay in the province for two months. On Tuesday, the party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission, which has dispatched inspectors to Shanxi and five other provinces, asked citizens with personal grievances not to overwhelm the team.
Video: Explosions near Shanxi Communist Party headquarter kill one, injure several
The Communist Party's Central Committee is also scheduled to hold a plenary session this weekend. This third meeting of the incoming administration is traditionally seen as a key moment for groundbreaking political and economic reforms.