Skip to main content

China links Islamic terrorist group to Tiananmen Square crash

By CNN Staff
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
Armed police stand guard at Tiananamen Square in Beijing on Thursday.
Armed police stand guard at Tiananamen Square in Beijing on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Chinese official says a separatist group is "the instigator behind the scenes"
  • The East Turkestan Islamic Movement has been blamed for past unrest
  • The crash in Tiananmen Square this week killed five people and wounded 40
  • Police say they have arrested five suspects in the case

(CNN) -- China's top security official has linked the deadly vehicle crash this week in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which killed five people and is being described by Chinese authorities as a terrorist attack, to an Islamic separatist group.

"The terrorist attack in Beijing was organized and premeditated," said Meng Jianzhu, the secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. "The instigator behind the scenes is the terrorist group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that operates in central and west Asia."

Meng was speaking Thursday in Tashkent, the capital of the central Asian country Uzbekistan. His brief comments were carried by the broadcaster Phoenix TV, which is based in Hong Kong.

Chinese officials have blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in the past for fomenting unrest in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region that is home to the largely Muslim Uyghur ethnic group.

China calls Beijing attack terrorism
Police seek answers in Tiananmen crash

The Tiananmen Square crash -- which took place Monday in the politically sensitive heart of the Chinese capital underneath a giant portrait of Mao Zedong -- would be the most high-profile attack in recent years.

No group has claimed responsibility for the crash so far.

READ: Terrorism or cry of desperation

Five suspects arrested

The U.S. State Department listed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization in 2002 during a period of increased cooperation with China on security matters after the September 11 attacks.

But details on the group's activities and capacity are scarce.

Chinese authorities said this week that they worked with police in Xinjiang to arrest five suspects in the Tiananmen case.

And they identified the three people inside the vehicle, which plowed through crowds of people before hitting the rail of a pedestrian bridge in front of the Forbidden City and bursting into flames, as members of the same family with Uyghur-sounding names.

The vehicle killed two tourists and injured 40 other people. Authorities say its occupants died when they set light to gasoline inside the vehicle. As well as the gasoline, police say they found two knives, steel sticks and a flag "with extremist religious content" in the vehicle.

Questions over transparency

The World Uyghur Congress, a diaspora group, has urged caution about the Chinese government's account of the Tiananmen crash.

READ: Who are the Uyghurs?

"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," it said in a statement earlier this week, citing a lack of transparency over the investigation.

State media inside China have given relatively limited coverage to the story. Images posted immediately after the incident on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, which showed black smoke and a vehicle engulfed in flames, were largely deleted.

Searches combining the words "Tiananmen," "terrorism" and "car crash" were also blocked. CNN broadcasts about the subject were initially blacked out inside China.

Simmering tensions

Tensions have run high in Xinjiang between Uyghurs and the millions of Han Chinese people who have migrated to the large, resource-rich region over the past several decades.

Uyghurs complain of discrimination and harsh treatment by security forces, despite official promises of equal rights and ethnic harmony. Activists say that a campaign is being waged to weaken the Uyghurs' religious and cultural traditions and that the education system undermines use of the Uyghur language.

The simmering tensions have periodically boiled over into deadly violence, most notably in July 2009, when rioting in Urumqi, the regional capital, killed around 200 people and wounded 1,700. That unrest was followed by a heavy crackdown by Chinese security forces.

Beijing exaggerates the threat from Uyghur separatist groups, Sean Roberts, an associate professor at the Elliott School for International Affairs at George Washington University, said this week. Little of the violence that has occurred inside Xinjiang should be considered terrorism, according to Roberts.

"Most of it looks like spontaneous civil unrest or isolated revenge violence carried out by individuals or small groups of local citizens, rather than by an organized militant group," he said.

However, Uyghur groups claimed responsibility for bus bombs in Shanghai and Yunnan prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The Chinese government blamed an attempted hijacking of a flight in 2012 on Uyghurs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT