Chinese authorities have captured the suspects in a fatal car crash that killed five people in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, according to state media, which described the incident as a “terrorist attack” for the first time.
Police in the capital had been searching for eight suspects from Xinjiang region after Monday’s crash, hotel staff said earlier.
“The arrests were made 10 hours after the incident, which has now been identified as a terrorist attack,” broadcaster CCTV said on its verified English-language microblog account on Wednesday.
A police notice issued to hotels in Beijing earlier named eight suspects sought in connection with the incident.
The notice suggested that police had widened the hunt for suspects.
Seven of the suspects had names typical of the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group native to the northwestern region of Xinjiang, one hotel manager, who gave only her surname, Wu, told the Associated Press news agency.
Wu, who runs the guesthouse attached to the Beijing liaison office of Xinjiang’s Karamay city, declined to give other details.
No Uighur group has claimed responsibility for the crash.
Employees at a dozen other Beijing hotels refused to discuss the order in a possible sign that police have banned talk of their investigation into the attack in the capital’s political heart, where China’s communist leaders live and work.
The new police notice, issued on Tuesday, did not state the suspects’ ethnic backgrounds.
It included the two men from the earlier notification, one of them from Lukqun, where state media said 35 people were killed in June in what Beijing called a “terrorist attack”.
The last suspect’s name appeared to be from China’s Han ethnic majority. He was born in 1992 and lived in “police family apartments” in Xinjiang, the notice read out by hotel staff said.
The oldest suspect was listed as born in 1943.
Beijing police could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Uighur group’s reaction
A statement from the World Uighur Congress, an exile group which China has condemned, said that suspicions that Uighurs were responsible for Monday’s crash could lead to stepped-up government repression.
“Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uighur people more than I ever have,” Rebiya Kadeer, World Uighur Congress president, said in a statement issued from Washington DC on Wednesday.
East Turkestan is the name which the activist organisation uses to refer to Xinjiang.
China has blamed Uighur groups for what it calls “terrorist” attacks in Xinjiang but details of alleged incidents are hard to confirm, and exile groups accuse China of exaggerating the threat to justify religious and cultural restrictions.
Xinjiang is a sparsely populated but strategically important area which borders several Central Asian countries. Uighurs make up 46 percent of Xinjiang’s population.
It is periodically hit by violent clashes, including riots in the region’s capital Urumqi in 2009 which left around 200 dead, but information is often hard to obtain.
Police have arrested at least 139 people in Xinjiang in recent months for allegedly “spreading jihad”, according to state-run media.
In August state-run media said that a policeman had been killed in an “anti-terrorism” operation – although overseas reports said 22 Uighurs died in the incident.