Chinese police are looking for eight suspects in connection with a car crash that killed five people this week in Beijing's symbolic Tiananmen Square.
Staff at several Beijing hotels said Wednesday police have warned them to be on the lookout for eight men who appear to be from the troubled northwest region of Xinjiang.
Hotel staff say seven of the men have names commonly given to Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority that has long complained of religious persecution. They say the other name was that of a majority Han Chinese suspect.
Details of the crash in Chinese media have been scarce, but foreign media have reported officials believe it was a suicide attack by people from Xinjiang.
Two days later, security remained tight in the capital. Though Tiananmen Square has been reopened, police appear to have increased their checks on license plates of cars in and around Beijing in response to the crash.
The crash occured when 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 occupants 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," said Seytoff.
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," said Johnson.
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.