Chinese police are looking for two suspects from the Xinjiang region in connection with a “major incident”, after five people were killed and dozens injured when a car drove into pedestrians and caught fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Police in the capital are asking local hotels about suspicious guests who had checked in since October 1 and named two suspects they said were from Xinjiang in a notice issued on Monday night, four hotels told Reuters news agency.
Judging by their names, the suspects appeared to be ethnic Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims from Xinjiang, a province in the far west of China.
Many Uighurs chafe at Chinese controls on their culture and religion.
“To prevent the suspected persons and vehicles from committing further crimes … please notify law enforcement of any discovery of clues regarding these suspects and the vehicles,” said the notice, which was widely circulated on Chinese microblogs.
Xinjiang licence plates
The police notice listed four car-licence plates from Xinjiang.
Beijing police, contacted by telephone, declined to comment.
Calls to the Xinjiang government went unanswered.
Police said on Monday that the car veered off the road at the north of the square, a major tourist attraction, crossed the barriers and caught fire almost directly in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City, in front of a huge portrait of the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.
The three people in the car died, as well as two tourists.
China says it grants Uighurs wide-ranging freedoms and accuses extremists of separatism.
Many rights groups say China has long overplayed the threat posed to justify its tough controls in energy-rich Xinjiang, which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia, India and Pakistan.
Monday’s incident, which struck at the symbolic heart of Chinese state power, has received muted coverage in Chinese media as a vast censorship apparatus suppressed unofficial accounts.
Newspapers across China carried news of the crash low down on their front pages and ran brief reports from state-run media.
Chinese media outlets are known to receive direct instructions from the government directing their reporting of events deemed threatening by the ruling Communist party, which in recent months has moved to tighten controls over all forms of media.
The Beijing News, generally an outspoken paper, gave priority to reports of a protest by doctors in eastern China.
Like other newspapers, it did not run a report of the event by its own journalists, and republished an account from the official news agency Xinhua.