China labels Tiananmen incident a ‘terrorist attack,’ arrests 5
BEIJING -- More than 48 hours after a car plowed down pedestrians and burst into flames at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government broke its near-silence on the incident and characterized it as a “terrorist attack.’’
Chinese state media on Wednesday identified the people in the car as members of one family --- the driver, Usmen Hasan; his mother, Kuwanhan Reyim; and his wife, Gulkiz Gini. All three were killed, along with two tourists.
Chinese authorities also said five people were arrested as accessories in Beijing on Monday night.
“The arrests were made 10 hours after the incident, which has now been identified as a terrorist attack,” state broadcaster CCTV said on an English-language microblog account.
The attack was “carefully planned, organized and premeditated,’’ police were quoted as saying by the New China News Agency.
The names of those arrested suggest that they are Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority from the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. The news service said they found gasoline, knives and steel sticks as well as a “flag with extremist content’’ in the vehicle involved in Monday’s crash.
A young man from Shandong province who narrowly escaped injury in Monday’s attack told The Times that he had seen a black flag with Arabic script waving from the front passenger window shortly before the car burst into flames.
The statement said that a similar “jihad” flag was found in a temporary apartment of the five suspects, along with knives.
Two of the arrested suspects, identified as Yusup Marniyaz and Yusup Ahmat, had been named Monday in an emergency notice asking Beijing hotels to keep a lookout for them.
They come from the outskirts of the Silk Road oasis of Turpan, which has been rife with ethnic violence since the spring. In March, Uighurs accused a Han Chinese man of hacking to death a 7-year-old boy in the area. That was followed by a series of riots at police stations and government offices that left dozens of people dead. The incidents have had only minimal coverage in the Chinese media.
Many Uighurs bristle at restrictions placed by Chinese authorities on their practice of Islam, including periodic bans on wearing head scarves and beards and on fasting during the Ramadan holiday. A banned group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement -- after a Uighur name for Xinjiang -- has operated across the border in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past decade, but experts disagree on its capabilities and organization.
Like Monday’s attack at Tiananmen Square, most assaults have involved the crudest of weapons — gasoline and knives, occasionally Molotov cocktails.
“This violence has caused innocent civilians to die,” the broadcaster CCTV said in a news commentary. “It has exposed the ugly face and cruelty of those criminals. ... As the common enemy of mankind, terrorism will surely go bankrupt.’’
Although numerous attacks in China have been attributed to Uighur separatists, all were inside Xinjiang until now. In the run-up to the summer Olympics in 2008, Chinese police said they foiled various attempted attacks in Beijing.
Besides the three family members in the car, two tourists -- a Chinese man and a Filipina woman -- were killed in Monday’s attack.
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