BEIJING (AP) — Police investigating the apparent car attack at Beijing's Forbidden City searched Tuesday for information on two ethnic Uighur minority suspects, a hotel employee said, a day after the vehicle plowed through a crowd and crashed, killing five people and injuring 38.
Police released no public information about a possible motive for the incident at one of China's most politically sensitive and heavily guarded public spaces, and it was not immediately clear if the two suspects were among the three people killed inside the vehicle.
Two bystanders, including a Filipino woman, also were killed when the sport utility vehicle veered inside of a barrier separating a crowded sidewalk from a busy avenue and then drove toward Tiananmen Gate, which stands opposite the sprawling Tiananmen Square.
Any incident in the area is sensitive because the square was the focus of a 1989 pro-democracy movement that was violently suppressed by the military. The 38 injured were among the crowds in front of the gate, where a large portrait of Mao Zedong hangs near the southern entrance to the former imperial palace. Three other Filipinos and a Japanese man were among the injured, police said, but there were no immediate details on their conditions.
Zhao Fuzhou, a security official at Beijing's Xinjiang Dasha hotel, said police had circulated a notice searching for information about two suspects with Uighur names in the aftermath of Monday's deaths. Unconfirmed copies of the notice also were widely circulated on the Chinese Internet.
One of the men, identified in the notice as Yusupu Wumaierniyazi, was listed as living at the address of a town in Xinjiang in which 24 police and civilians and 13 militants were killed in an attack on June 26.
Radicals among the Muslim Turkic Uighurs have been fighting a low-intensity insurgency against Chinese rule for years. This summer saw an unusually large number of violent incidents and Chinese security forces say they have been guarding against attacks outside of Xinjiang.
Uighurs are culturally, religiously and linguistically distinct from China's ethnic Han majority and many have chafed under heavy-handed Communist Party rule. Beijing police said on their microblog that they were taking "effective measures to ensure the capital's safety and stability."
A police statement said the vehicle had burst into flames after crashing at about noon Monday into a guardrail for one of the ancient stone bridges leading to the gate. The adjacent Chang'an Avenue was closed as police and rescue services converged, but police said traffic was restored just over an hour later.
The incident had every appearance of being deliberate, since the driver apparently jumped a curb and traveled about 400 meters (yards) to the spot where the car was said to have caught fire. Along the way, it avoided trees, street lights and at least one security checkpoint.
Photos of the scene that briefly circulated on the Internet showed a vehicle emitting thick smoke at the gate. Injured people, including a young girl, lay on the ground, many of them bleeding heavily.
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said their information indicated that the woman who died and the injured Filipinos — two women and a man — were tourists. "Our embassy is working to gather more details about this incident and to extend the necessary and appropriate assistance to the victims," he said in a statement.
Police said the other tourist killed was a Chinese man from the southern province of Guangdong. Attendants and nearby concession stand vendors who were asked about the incident all said they were not clear on what happened. Such employees are generally understood to be part-time police informants.
Just west of the square lies the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's parliament, while many of China's top leaders live and work just a few hundred meters (yards) away in the tightly guarded Zhongnanhai compound.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.