The Oct. 28 deadly incident in Tiananmen Square—in which an SUV ploughed into the crowd, leaving five dead and nearly 40 injured—appears to have been an act of terrorism. Police are reportedly checking hotels and vehicles for two men said to be ethnic Uighurs. It is unclear if the two suspects survived the crash or are thought to be accomplices. Accounts also do not make clear if the car's occupants were all killed in the crash; Reuters called the incident a "suicide attack," but also implied the attackers set the SUV on fire after driving it into the tourist-packed square. The Uighur ethnicity of the suspects has not been officially confirmed, but is based on surnames provided in police notes left with hotel management in the city to assist in the dragnet. Radio Free Asia cites reports from locals that police are checking ID cards of Uighurs on Beijing's streets and instructed hotels not to accept patrons from Xinjiang.
The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress issued a statement saying it fears the incident could "incite a fierce crackdown" on the Uighur people. Said the organization's leader Rebiya Kadeer: "Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uyghur people more than I ever have. 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."
The car attack occurred just in front of the Tiananmen Gate—the great arch at the entrance to the Forbidden City and a symbol of Communist Party rule, where Mao Zedong famously announced the victory of the Revolution on Oct. 1, 1949. That date is still celebrated as China's National Day—and this year it saw a rare protest in Tiananmen Square. Authorities reportedly detained hundreds of petitioners who tried to converge on the square.
"The petitioners went there very early this morning," said Huang Qi, founder of the Sichuan-based rights group Tianwang. "When they came to raise their banners, they rushed into Tiananmen Square together… As far as we know, there were several thousand of them." Perhaps to protect the actual organizers, Huang said the petitioners, each pursuing a grievance against officials, had converged on the square spontaneously, with no overt organization. (RFA, Oct. 1)
Such petitioners have faced repression before—especially in the prelude to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Authorities have particularly sought to keep petitioners from gathering in Tiananmen Square because of its potent symbolism.
The Uyghur American Association marked National Day with a demonstration in front of China's embassy in Washington DC, where speakers included exiled Uighur leaders Rebiya Kadeer and Alim Seytoff. Participants carried the blue crescent-adorned flag of East Turkestan, the proposed Uighur homeland in Xinjiang. (Uyghur Human Rights Project)