Tiananmen crash: Xinjiang security tightened

A policeman stands guard next to a special police vehicle near Tiananmen Gate, in Beijing, 29 October 2013 Authorities have stepped up security following the attack

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Security appears to have been increased in China's Xinjiang region, a day after police said they had detained five suspects over the Tiananmen crash.

Security levels are raised and police are visiting "sensitive religious families", police in Xinjiang say.

A car crashed into a crowd and burst into flames at Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Monday, killing all three in the car and two bystanders.

The car occupants appear to have been Uighurs, from China's Xinjiang region.

A car crashed into a crowd and burst into flames at Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Monday, killing all three in the car and two bystanders.

Police say that the jeep was driven by a man who was with his wife and mother. They were said to have ignited petrol inside the car.

The five suspects - all from Xinjiang - were arrested 10 hours after the crash and are thought to be connected to the incident, according to the police.

Security levels raised

Xinjiang's provincial government spokesperson, Hou Hanmin, told the BBC the region had not received direct orders from Beijing to increase security checks on the area's minority Uighur Muslims.

However, Ms Hou confirmed, inspections that are normally executed on big holidays are now being carried out daily.

Uighurs and Xinjiang

  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region's population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there was large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

"The message from the state media is made clear to us all," Ms Hou said, "that the recent terrorist attack is related to Xinjiang and religious extremism poses [a] serious threat to our society and it jeopardises our country's stability."

"People in Xinjiang are furious about terrorism, and our unanimous opinions are that terrorism harms our lives and our properties."

A police officer working in the eastern part of Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, told the BBC by phone that the area's security level had been raised to level one, its peak level, on Monday afternoon, right after the incident in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The officer refused to give his name, which is common for government officials who fear reprisals if they speak to foreign media.

"Normally in October and November, we lower the alert level to two or three," the officer said.

"But on Monday afternoon, we got orders to raise the alert level to level one. This means every one of us will have to be on duty and nobody can have a holiday or weekend."

More police and state security officials are patrolling the roads, the police officer said. "We have registered all sensitive religious families and we conduct more visits to those houses."

'Whistle for help'

"Inspections in Urumqi are much stricter," one Han Chinese man who works as a driver in Urumqi told the BBC by phone.

Start Quote

Our local community officers passed us lime and pepper powder to protect ourselves from possible attacks”

End Quote Waitress Shanshan County, Xinjiang

"Police are checking our car trunks at every gas station and in big markets. On the streets, you see more special police squads and local security teams, especially in crowded places like supermarkets and shopping malls."

"Cars driving into Urumqi city, especially those from Southern Xinjiang will be inspected very strictly. Ethnic-looking people have to go through strict inspections too."

Xinjiang's minority Uighur Muslims commonly argue they are unfairly vilified by the Chinese government, a problem that many fear will worsen following the Tiananmen crash.

There are 9 million Uighurs living in Xinjiang, but they are now a minority in the region, which is now dominated politically and economically by Han Chinese.

Resentment and suspicion between both groups is on the rise, resulting in periodic outbreaks of violence across Xinjiang.

The security crackdown appears to have spread beyond the capital.

A waitress working in a restaurant in Shuang Shui Mo, a village in Xinjiang's Shanshan county, home of one of the original Tiananmen suspects, confirmed the security crackdown was in place there.

She told the BBC that she had been warned by community workers on Monday or Tuesday that some of the people responsible for the Beijing incident had been arrested, but more were still at large.

The waitress is part of the Han Chinese ethnic majority.

"We were divided into 10 households a team, and each of us was given a whistle," the waitress explained. "If we see anyone suspicious with big beard or burka, we can use the whistle to call for help."

An ethnic Uighur man walks along a market in downtown Turpan, Xinjiang province 31 October 2013 Xinjiang is home to nine million Uighurs

An extra emphasis on security started earlier this year, the young woman said.

"Starting from April this year, there are special police forces patrolling in our village, and teams of 8 or 10 local security people a group are stationed on every street corner. Our local community officers passed us lime and pepper powder to protect ourselves from possible attacks."

Even the local restaurant where the waitress works, which serves Muslim food, is subject to new rules.

"We are allowed to stop suspicious people from entering our restaurant," says the waitress.

"We weren't allowed to do this before, but now it's [a] special situation." Starting in June, the restaurant must close every night by 10:30 pm.

But she wasn't worried by the situation. "You hear police sirens very often. We don't feel that scared, because you see police all the time."

Questions remain

Start Quote

Chinese claims simply cannot be accepted as facts without an independent and international investigation”

End Quote Rebiya Kadeer World Uighur Congress

Police said Monday's attack was "carefully planned, organized and premeditated".

However, nagging questions remain: if this was a suicide attack, why were two extra passengers sitting in the car that crashed, including the driver's mother?

Also, the police report they found "a flag with extremist religious content" in the burned vehicle. Why wasn't it destroyed when the SUV went up in flames?

Posts on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, that posed similar questions were quickly deleted by censors.

And even though news of Wednesday's arrests appeared on the Weibo account of CCTV, Chinese state television, around 18:00, there was no mention of the story on the network's flagship 19:00 newscasts.

Clearly, the Chinese authorities are hoping the public will accept the official version of the story and will move on, without asking too many questions.

Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the World Uighur Congress, which represents the Uighur community in exile, has told Reuters news agency that "Chinese claims [on this case] simply cannot be accepted as facts without an independent and international investigation."

"It is difficult to tell [the truth] at the moment, given the strict control of information by the Chinese government on this tragic incident," she said.

"If the Uighurs did it, I believe they did it out of desperation because there is no channel for the Uighur people to seek redress for any kind of injustice they had suffered under Chinese rule," she added.

Map of Tiananmen

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