BEIJING— China is calling for a unified front against what it says is the country’s fight against terrorism, following Monday’s incident in Tiananmen Square that killed five people. After rounding up five suspects linked to the alleged attack, China says it was a pre-mediated and carefully organized act of terrorism.
Chinese state-backed media Thursday said the Tiananmen incident was aimed at undermining stability and creating a separate state of East Turkestan in China’s remote region of Xinjiang.
The Global Times newspaper noted that while those allegedly involved were all members of the country’s largely Muslim ethnic minority group, known as the Uighurs, they would be the "biggest victims" from the attack. The paper explained that Xinjiang would be subject to even tighter security restrictions.
Chinese authorities have been cracking down hard in recent months in Xinjiang, targeting alleged religious extremists. The region’s official Xinjiang Daily newspaper says authorities detained hundreds of people for questioning between late June and August. This followed an outbreak of violence in Xinjiang that left 35 people dead in late June.
Critics blame Beijing for the tensions, citing repression of minority Uighurs and policies encouraging a massive influx of ethnic Han Chinese.
The World Uyghur Congress, an exile Uighur group, says there is little reason to trust Beijing’s conclusion regarding the attack, given China’s tight control of information.
Dolkun Isa with the World Uyghur Congress says, “That's why we are calling for an international investigation, independent investigation group come to the area and China should open the door to international media, we are worried that the Chinese government will just use this opportunity to crackdown and arrest innocent people, we're just worried about that.”
The group says there is no organized resistance against Chinese rule, and that any individual attacks by Uighurs are out of desperation.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied any link between the incident and the government’s policies.
Huasaid, “Those individuals who try to link terrorism to the government’s national or religious policies or even use those policies as an excuse to attack the government have ulterior motives and are completely wrong. Anyone who has the basic ability to distinguish [right from wrong] can see this."
While Chinese authorities maintain Monday’s incident was a terrorist plot, they have provided little evidence.
Eyewitnesses said a jeep with Xinjiang license plates rammed through barricades, plowed through crowds of tourists and police before hitting a bridge outside the Forbidden City. Police say at that point, the passengers, Usmen Hassan, his wife and mother set the vehicle on fire and died. Police later said knives, fuel canisters and banners with religious extremist slogans were found in the vehicle.
The three people in the vehicle and five other suspects held in connection with the incident are from areas in the western part of Xinjiang where tensions have peaked in recent months. But they are from locales that are as much as one thousand kilometers apart.
Officials in Xinjiang helped police in Beijing to locate those allegedly involved in the attack. But Xinjiang government spokesman Yang Guoqiang could not provide any additional details.
Yang says that while the fight against terrorism goes on, it is not having an impact on daily life in the region.
He said, “Police and authorities are carrying out their investigation, but people's life and the normal course of things has not been affected."
However, foreign journalists who have traveled to remote parts of the region where some of the suspects were from are reporting a heavy police presence in areas and tensions on the rise.