Update as of 12:11 a.m. EDT: Chinese police have identified two suspects in Monday's Tiananmen Square car crash and are seeking information about two people from Xinjiang province, the BBC reported citing local media. Xinjiang in the country's northwest is home to the minority Muslim Uighur group, and many among the far-flung but restive province's minority community have protested in the past against religious repression by the Communist government.
"To prevent the suspected persons and vehicles from committing further crimes ... please notify law enforcement of any discovery of clues regarding these suspects and the vehicles," said the notice, which was circulated on Chinese microblogs, and listed four Xinjiang car licence plates, according to Reuters.
A sport-utility vehicle veered onto a crowded sidewalk in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday afternoon, killing five people, including the driver and two passengers, and two tourists before crashing and catching fire at the entrance to the Forbidden City, media reports said.
The incident, which occurred at one of the country’s most historic sites, injured 38 people and brought police pouring into the square who set about clearing the area of tourists and members of the media, according to reports. Among the dead were a female tourist from the Philippines and a male Chinese tourist, reports said citing the official Xinhua news agency. Three Philippine tourists and one Japanese tourist were among those injured.
According to various foreign media reports, the Chinese government, renowned for its dislike of negative publicity, attempted to restrict media coverage by deleting photos and postings about the incident from social media sites. Some of the deleted posts included images of the burning vehicle, which reports said was engulfed in flames and thick, black smoke, while other deleted posts were those suggesting that the incident might have been a case of self-immolation -- a form of political protest that Tiananmen Square has witnessed often in the past.
According to a New York Times report, police blocked the area off by closing a subway station and driving off tourists and detaining several foreign journalists. The authorities also forced two Agence France-Presse reporters to delete photographs from their cameras, the report said.
Online searches for “Tiananmen car accident” were blocked, according to a Washington Post report, which added that state-owned Xinhua carried only a brief report of the incident, which went unmentioned in the state's Chinese-language evening news on television.
Witness accounts suggested, according to media reports, that the crash might have been premeditated and that the driver deliberately steered the vehicle along a sidewalk in the square and crashed it into a railing of the Jinshui Bridge.
“This was not some driver who took a wrong turn and accidentally ended up on the sidewalk,” a witness told the Times.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, Beijing police, in an official statement posted on the Sina Weibo microblogging site, said a number of tourists and on-duty police injured in the crash had been rushed to local hospitals, without providing further details. However, officials at hospitals near Tiananmen Square either refused to comment or could not be reached, according to the Journal.