Beijing — The Chinese government suspects the SUV crash Monday morning at Tiananmen Square was a suicide attack, in which five people were killed and 38 injured.
The incident was initially believed to be an accident, but by late Monday a senior source with ties to the Chinese leadership said, “It was no accident. The jeep knocked down barricades and rammed into pedestrians. The three men had no plans to flee from the scene,” according to reports.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity, telling the foreign media, “It looks like a pre-meditated suicide attack,” said reports.
The fatalities were three men in the SUV and two tourists. One of the tourists was a woman from the Philippines, the other a Chinese man.
Authorities suspect the three men in the vehicle were from Muslim-dominated Xinjiang, a restive region in China’s far west on the borders of ex-Soviet Central Asia.
The incident took place in Tiananmen Square, the most closely guarded location in China and the heart of its power structure, and scene of the 1989 army crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
Police are searching for two other people, believed to be ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority from Xinjiang, and have spread a dragnet across Beijing, checking hotels and vehicles.
It is unclear if these two suspects were in the vehicle or are accomplices still at large.
China has blamed Uighur separatists and religious extremists for attacks in Xinjiang, saying they want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. But rights groups and exiles say the Chinese government greatly over-states the threat.
Nearly 200 people were killed in 2009 in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, in clashes between Uighurs and ethnic Chinese.
But the violence has never before spilled over into Beijing, despite speculation that Uighurs were behind a 1997 Beijing bus bombing that killed two people.
Uighurs are not known to have carried out any suicide attacks before.
The Chinese government has not given any official word on whether Monday’s incident at Tiananmen Square was an accident or an attack, and state media has given few details about what happened, a common practice with sensitive events.
Philippine embassy officials in China confirmed that one Filipina was killed and three Filipinos were injured in the incident, and that they were all from the same family, according to reports.
The injured are in the hospital in stable condition.
Embassy officials said they are coordinating with authorities on immediate repatriation of the three injured Filipinos and of the remains of their loved one.