BEIJING — China’s domestic security chief believes a fatal vehicle crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in which five died was planned by a Uighur separatist group, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and United Nations.
An SUV ploughed through bystanders in the capital’s iconic Tiananmen Square on Monday and burst into flames, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders, in what the government called a terrorist attack.
Beijing police have arrested five people it says were radical Islamists who were planning a holy war. Security has been strengthened in both Beijing and in Xinjiang, the restive far western region the Muslim Uighurs call home.
Meng Jianzhu, a member of the elite 25-member Politburo with responsibility for domestic security, blamed the incident on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Many Uighurs call Xinjiang East Turkestan, and the government often blames the frequent outbreaks of violence there on extremists agitating for an independent state.
“This violent terrorist incident that’s happened in Beijing was organized and premeditated,” Meng told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, in comments carried by the official Xinhua news agency on Friday.
“The group that stood behind the scenes inciting it was the East Turkestan Islamic Movement,” he added, speaking on the sidelines of a Tashkent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Chinese and Russian-lead security group.
“We must seek to further strengthen international anti-terror cooperation…in order to create a strong deterrent and further safeguard peace and stability in our region.”
Police identified the driver as a man called Usmen Hasan, whose name suggests he is a Uighur, and said his mother and wife were in the car with him, along with devices filled with gasoline and a flag with “extreme religious content” on it.
At least 42 people were injured.
However, exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer told Reuters this week that caution should be exercised over the government’s account, adding she did not believe any kind of organized extremist Islamic movement was operating in Xinjiang, a view shared by rights groups and some experts.
The United Nations and U.S. placed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on lists of terrorist organizations after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Xinjiang, a sprawling, desert-like region that borders Central Asian nations that were part of the former Soviet Union as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been beset by violence, blamed by China on Uighur separatists and extremists.
In 2009, nearly 200 people were killed in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi in rioting between Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese.