Chinese Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱) believes a fatal vehicle crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in which five died was planned by a Muslim Uighur separatist group, designated a terrorist organisation by the US and UN.
Meng Jianzhu, a member of the 25-member Politburo responsible for domestic security, said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was behind the attack. This is the first time Beijing has accused the group of carrying out the attack.
On Monday, an SUV ploughed through bystanders on the edge of the capital’s iconic Tiananmen Square 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 Uighurs call home.
“This violent terrorist incident that’s happened in Beijing was organized and premeditated,” Meng told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, in comments carried by Xinhua news agency yesterday. “The group that stood behind the scenes inciting it was 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.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said China was facing a clear threat from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which she added also operated outside of the country.
“Members of the organization have for a long time engaged in terrorist acts in South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and other regions. It has links to many international extremist terrorist groups,” she told a daily news briefing. “It is China’s most direct and realistic security threat.”
Police stepped up checks at Beijing’s oldest mosque yesterday, searching bags of anyone who looked Uighur, as part of heightened security across the capital.
Some experts have expressed skepticism about China’s characterization of the Tiananmen Square incident as a premeditated and coordinated attack.
“If it’s a deliberate act, it’s unsophisticated,” said Joanne Smith Finley, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Newcastle University who studies Xinjiang. “It doesn’t carry any of the hallmarks that we would expect to see if it was something that was plotted and carefully deliberated with overseas extremists.”
The UN and US placed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on lists of terrorist organizations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The group entered the public eye ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when it said it had caused a series of fatal explosions across China.
Police identified the driver of the SUV as 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.
Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said 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.