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Reports: Chinese Officials Suspect Xinjiang Link to Beijing 'Attack'

Reports from Beijing say Chinese authorities believe a car crash that killed five people Monday in Beijing's Tiananmen Square was a deliberate act by people from the troubled region of Xinjiang.

Reuters and Japanese news agencies Kyodo and Asahi attributed the suspicion to unnamed sources in the Chinese capital. In reports published Tuesday, the sources did not say whether those involved were ethnic Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority indigenous to Xinjiang.

Late Monday, Beijing police issued a notice to hotels requesting information about two Xinjiang men with Uighur names suspected of involvement in a "major incident," a reference to the car crash.

In that incident, a sports utility vehicle veered off a road, drove through a pedestrian area and crashed in flames near the main entrance to the Forbidden City - one of China's most heavily guarded public spaces. The dead included the vehicle's three passengers and two tourists - a Philippine woman and a Chinese man. Thirty-eight bystanders were injured.

China has long accused Uighur separatists and Islamic militants of carrying out a series of attacks in Xinjiang in recent years, in an effort to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Exiled Uighur leaders reject accusations of Uighur involvement in terrorism. They accuse China's majority Han rulers of persecuting their people and turning them into a minority in their homeland.

A spokesman for main opposition World Uyghur Congress told VOA via Skype it is too early to conclude whether the Beijing incident was an attack. Alim Seytoff also denounced the apparent targeting of Uighurs by Beijing police, whose notice identified four Xinjiang license plates allegedly used by the two suspects.

"I think it is really seriously unfair to single out the Uighurs (by) basically informing hotels and other places to search for several Uighurs and the car tags from Xinjiang, because lots of (Han) Chinese people from Xinjiang drive Xinjiang-tagged cars."

It is not clear if the two suspects were among those killed in the sports utility vehicle or possible conspirators in a wider plot. China analyst Christopher Johnson of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said he believes police are looking for more potential assailants.

"The thing that's really interesting to me is the possibility that the Chinese authorities are concerned that there might be either follow-on or other attacks that might occur here, and that's got to be alarming for the authorities."

Johnson said China may be holding back from blaming Uighurs for Monday's incident because of the sensitivity of acknowledging that an attack happened in a place such as Tiananmen. He also said the Chinese government may be waiting until it establishes an "iron-clad" case of culpability for the crash.

China denies mistreating any of its minority groups, saying they are guaranteed wide-ranging religious and cultural freedoms.

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