Eight die in Peking gunman's rampage

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The Independent Online
WITNESSES said Chinese militia failed to act quickly enough when a man believed to be a soldier opened fire yesterday on Peking's crowded morning traffic. Eight people, including a foreign diplomat and his son, were killed and more than 30 were injured before the gunman was shot dead.

Shoot-outs are common in the West but are almost unheard of in China. The attack took place in a heavily policed area of the city, where diplomats and foreign journalists live in guarded compounds. One Western diplomat said militiamen were on the scene fairly quickly, but were slow to act. 'There were people who were doing nothing. They could have shot him. Some loss of life could have been averted,' he said. Another Western witness said: 'Four armed police got out of their car, put on their guns and bullet-proof jackets. When the gunman turned on them they just dropped to the ground. Is this China's new rapid deployment force?'

Apart from confirming casualty figures, the authorities gave no details about the tragedy or about whether the gunman was a soldier. The story was not reported on last night's main television news. It appears that a soldier with an AK- 47 commandeered a jeep near his barracks in the suburbs and told the driver to take him to Tiananmen Square. Instead, at about 7.20am, the driver turned off at the busy Second Ring Road, two miles from the square, crashed into a tree and ran off.

'The tall, fit young man, about 35, walked northwards in the middle of the three-lane road, firing into the air and then aiming shots apparently at random at vehicles travelling on the southbound carriage,' a witness said.

A bus was hit through the front windscreen and three women were badly wounded. One had the back of her head blown away. The gunman stopped a taxi, injured the driver and appeared to shoot one passenger at point blank range. A small boy on a bicycle being ridden by his father was shot in the head and killed.

An Iranian diplomat, driving his four children to school, was caught in the crossfire. He and his son were killed. His other son was injured.

The gunman was shot by soldiers at about 7.40am. Officials refused to confirm whether militiamen were also killed.