Chinese police launch manhunt for eight after Tiananmen jeep crash
Beijing police are searching for at least eight people believed to be linked to the apparent suicide car crash in front of the Tiananmen Square gate on Monday afternoon that left five dead and 38 injured.
Police set up a special team to investigate the case yesterday.
Hotels in the capital have been asked to be on the lookout for the suspects, according to a notice seen by the South China Morning Post and staff at several hotels.
The suspects include a 21-year-old Sichuan-born male named Liu Ke. The name suggests the suspect is Han Chinese. His registered address is a residential complex belonging to police in Changji , Xinjiang , an autonomous region known for ethnic tension between Turkic-speaking Muslim Uygurs and Han Chinese.
The seven others have ethnic Uygur names and come from Xinjiang, the same police notice said. The notice listed five Xinjiang vehicle number plates, including one of a motorcycle, that are of interest to police.
Video: Scenes from Tiananmen Square car crash
Police said an SUV careened 500 metres along the pedestrian walkway at the northern end of Tiananmen Square, ploughing into dozens of tourists before bursting into flames just after noon.
The three people in the vehicle, a male tourist from Guangdong and a Filipino woman were killed. Three other Filipino tourists and a Japanese man were among the injured. While the central government has said little about the incident, the manhunt suggests it was not an accident.
The crash - at the symbolic heart of the nation - came just days ahead of a key political congress. And on Monday morning, all seven members of the supreme Politburo Standing Committee attended an event at the Great Hall of the People, across the road from where the incident occurred.
In Xinjiang, police began searching for the suspects. A hotel employee in Hotan said officers had told staff to turn away Uygurs matching the description "big beard, Uygur and male," said the employee, who refused to be named. "We are not allowed to accept guests who fit this description, even if they have valid documents to prove their identity."
Police in Hotan and Beijing declined to comment. Xinjiang government spokesman Luo Fuyong said he could not confirm if the three people in the vehicle were Uygurs from the region.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the incident was being investigated and that while Xinjiang "enjoys sound economic and social development", it sometimes experiences violence and "terrorism".
"We sternly oppose and crack down on such incidents to ensure the safety and security of society as well as people's lives and properties," she added.
Watch: China's Foreign Ministry response to Tiananmen crash
Security near the crash site has been tightened, with more plain-clothes officers patrolling the area and a fire engine stationed nearby.
Newspapers mostly carried news of Monday's crash low down on their front pages and in contrast to the Global Times used brief reports from state media -- highlighting official efforts to control discussion of the event.
Chinese media outlets are known to receive instructions from the government directing their reporting.
The state media reports, carried by all major newspaper and news websites, stressed official rescue efforts and did not contain information about whether the incident was deliberate.
Chinese social media sites, which are closely controlled albeit less strictly than print media, were an early source of pictures of the crash and speculation that it was an act of protest, but eyewitness accounts were rapidly removed.
On Tuesday Weibo searches for "Tiananmen" and "bomb" returned a statement that "According to relevant laws and policies... search results will not be displayed."
Searches for "Tiananmen" and "Xinjiang" did not produce any results posted after Monday.
Xinjiang, in China's far west, is home to ethnic minority Uighurs, many of them Muslim.
State media have reported several violent incidents there and a rising militant threat, but Uighur rights groups complain of ethnic and religious repression, while information is tightly controlled.
Police have arrested 140 people in Xinjiang in recent months for allegedly spreading jihad, and killed 22 Uighurs in August in an "anti-terrorism" operation, the official news agency Xinhua reported earlier.
One of the suspects named was from Lukqun, where state media said 35 people were killed in June in what Beijing called a "terrorist attack".
China politics expert Willy Lam said the Tiananmen incident "looks like a terrorist attack" but cautioned that more information was needed.
"If it is indeed a terrorist attack it shows that Beijing's efforts in trying to stamp out terrorism have not been very successful," he added.
But Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur intellectual, said the police notice was not definitively linked to the Tiananmen crash, and even if a Xinjiang car was involved, it would not establish that members of the minority were responsible.
"Some media has suggested it was a terrorist attack carried out by Uighurs, without evidence being produced," he told AFP.
"I worry that this event, even though it may have nothing to do with Uighurs, could lead local governments to increase repression and discrimination."
Additional reporting by Teddy Ng, Stephen Chen, Patrick Boehler, Wu Nan and AFP