China's domestic security chief has blamed a Muslim Uighur separatist group for planning a "violent terrorist incident" this week on Beijing's Tiananmen Square that killed five people and injured dozens of others.
Meng Jianzhu, a member of the 25-member Politburo with responsibility for domestic security, said Friday that the incident had been organized by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The group is based in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The United States and the United Nations both classified ETIM as a terrorist organization in 2002.
But Alim Seytoff, spokesman for main opposition World Uyghur Congress, told VOA's Mandarin service that the ETIM is essentially powerless.
"This so-called East Turkmenistan Movement, in 2003 the head of the East Turkmenistan Movement, Hasan Mahsum, was killed by Pakistani Troops. After he was killed, the East Turkmenistan Movement in reality ceased to exist."
Beijing says the deadly Monday car crash in Tiananmen Square was a suicide mission planned by religious extremists. Police say a Uighur man named Usmen Hasan crashed a vehicle carrying his mother and wife into a crowd of people in the square, before lighting the car on fire. All three died at the scene, as did two tourists. Dozens were wounded.
Officials say they found gasoline, knives, steel sticks and a flag with extremist religious content inside the burnt-out vehicle. They also arrested five people from Xinjiang, who were said to be planning attacks with Hasan.
The World Uighur Congress does not deny Uighur individuals sometimes engage in violence, out of what it calls desperation. But, contrary to Beijing's claims, it says there is no organized resistance against Chinese rule.
Clashes in Xinjiang are common between Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority or members of the government security forces. Beijing says over 200 people have been killed in such attacks in recent years. But this is the first time Chinese authorities have blamed Uighurs for a major incident in Beijing.
(This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.)