China arrests five suspected Islamist militants over Tiananmen Square jeep 'terrorist attack'

Authorities now describe the incident on Monday, which killed five and left dozens injured, as a terrorist attack

Chinese police have detained five suspected Islamist militants after confirming a deadly car crash at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was a “carefully planned, organised and premeditated” terrorist attack.

Officers said the sports-utility vehicle that ploughed into a crowd of tourists outside the Forbidden City in the capital on Monday was driven by Usmen Hasan, an ethnic Uighur from the western region of Xinjiang.

His wife, Gulkiz Gini, and mother, Kuwanhan Reyim, were with him in the car, which had Xinjiang number plates, along with “devices filled with petrol”, knives and a “jihad” flag, police said.

The three occupants of the car were killed and two tourists – one Chinese from Guangdong province and one Filipino – died, while 40 people were injured.

Police found more knives and another flag in the temporary residence of the five detained suspects, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. “With the co-operation of police authorities including those in north-west China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Beijing police have captured five suspects who had been at large,” a spokesman from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau told Xinhua.

The spokesman admitted the authorities knew of Usmen Hasan, who, it is believed, conspired to plan and carry out the attack. He said they had not expected the police to capture the suspects so quickly after the incident.

The reaction on Sina Weibo, a Chinese blogging website, showed support for the police. One person wrote, “a great job in cracking down these terrorists”.

The main exiled Uighur group, the World  Uighur Congress, said a lack of transparency in China meant there would only be one side of the story given and said it feared the response to the incident would lead to “further demonisation” of the Uighurs.

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World  Uighur Congress, said from Washington DC: “The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing so as to further impose repressive measures on the  Uighur people. Chinese officials commandeered the war on terror for its own cynical purposes to justify harsh measures against the  Uighurs.”

Xinjiang’s eight million Turkic-speaking Uighurs are an ethnic group that shares close linguistic and cultural links to Central Asia, distinct from China’s majority Han.

A separatist campaign in the region has occasionally resulted in violence over the past 20 years, although the unrest has never before spilled over into the capital.