Tiananmen Square suicide attack?

The Oct. 28 deadly incident in Tiananmen Square—in which an SUV ploughed into the crowd, leaving five dead and nearly 40 injured—appears to have been an act of terrorism. Police are reportedly checking hotels and vehicles for two men said to be ethnic Uighurs. It is unclear if the two suspects survived the crash or are thought to be accomplices. Accounts also do not make clear if the car's occupants were all killed in the crash; Reuters called the incident a "suicide attack," but also implied the attackers set the SUV on fire after driving it into the tourist-packed square. The Uighur ethnicity of the suspects has not been officially confirmed, but is based on surnames provided in police notes left with hotel management in the city to assist in the dragnet. Radio Free Asia cites reports from locals that police are checking ID cards of Uighurs on Beijing's streets and instructed hotels not to accept patrons from Xinjiang.

The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress issued a statement saying it fears the incident could "incite a fierce crackdown"  on the Uighur people. Said the organization's leader Rebiya Kadeer: "Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uyghur people more than I ever have. The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing, so as to further impose repressive measures on the Uyghur people."

The car attack occurred just in front of the Tiananmen Gate—the great arch at the entrance to the Forbidden City and a symbol of Communist Party rule, where Mao Zedong famously announced the victory of the Revolution on Oct. 1, 1949. That date is still celebrated as China's National Day—and this year it saw a rare protest in Tiananmen Square. Authorities reportedly detained hundreds of petitioners who tried to converge on the square.

"The petitioners went there very early this morning," said Huang Qi, founder of the Sichuan-based rights group Tianwang. "When they came to raise their banners, they rushed into Tiananmen Square together... As far as we know, there were several thousand of them." Perhaps to protect the actual organizers, Huang said the petitioners, each pursuing a grievance against officials, had converged on the square spontaneously, with no overt organization. (RFA, Oct. 1)

Such petitioners have faced repression before—especially in the prelude to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Authorities have particularly sought to keep petitioners from gathering in Tiananmen Square because of its potent symbolism.

The Uyghur American Association marked National Day with a demonstration in front of China's embassy in Washington DC, where speakers included exiled Uighur leaders Rebiya Kadeer and Alim Seytoff. Participants carried the blue crescent-adorned flag of East Turkestan, the proposed Uighur homeland in Xinjiang. (Uyghur Human Rights Project)

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China authorities speak on Tiananmen attack

In a statement posted online by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, Beijing police called the Tiananmen Square crash a "rigorously planned, organized, premeditated, violent terrorist attack." According to state media, police said Usmen Hasan—a name that indicates Uighur ethnicity—drove the car with his wife and mother inside, and it contained gasoline filled devices, a flag with "religious extremist content" on it. Five people have reportedly now been detained in connection with the attack, but their names have not been released. (WP, Global Post, Oct. 30)

ETIM blamed in Tiananmen Square attack

Chinese national authorities have issued an official statement on the Tiananmen Square attack. "The violent terrorist incident in Beijing is a well-organized and plotted act... It was orchestrated by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist organisation that is entrenched in central and west Asian regions," said China’s Chief of Political and Legal Affairs Meng Jianzhu, the country's top security official, speaking at a regional security summit in Uzbekistan. He said China will "seek to step up international co-operation on cracking down on terrorism."

Rebiya Kadeer of the Munich-based World Uygur Congress expressed skepticism. "Chinese claims simply cannot be accepted as facts without an independent and international investigation of what took place in Beijing on Monday," she told reporters.

It now appears the five killed in the incident included all three of the vehicle's occupants. Chinese authorities have reportedly sealed off Shanshan county in Xinjiang, said to be the home of a suspect in the case named by Beijing police. (SCMP, Nov. 1)

The ETIM was added to the US "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" list in 2002, but dropped in 2012 on apparent skepticism that the group actually exists in any organized sense. (CFR)