BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping and six other top officials reportedly were at Tiananmen Square on Monday when a vehicle crashed and exploded nearby, leaving five dead.
Although there is no indication that the physical safety of the leaders, who were attending meetings inside the Great Hall of the People, was jeopardized, the apparent suicide attack so close to the epicenter of power rattled the Chinese government and has raised doubts about the effectiveness of its security apparatus.
The three occupants of the car, suspected of being members of the Uighur ethnic minority, were killed along with two tourists, one a Filipina and the other a Chinese man. Thirty-eight people were injured.
"It is clear that China does not have a counterterrorism capability. Their capabilities are very rudimentary, and they need to develop them," said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert who has written widely on separatism by Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs. He attributed the attack to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a shadowy group based in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, an area known for resistance to Beijing's hard-line policies.
Witnesses said that police were unable to stop the car, which traveled nearly 500 yards from an intersection before exploding.
Besides Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and the five other members of the Politburo Standing Committee — the innermost circle — were in the Great Hall of the People, on the west side of the square, about 200 yards away. In the morning, they were attending a meeting with the China Women's Federation and in the afternoon, a South African government delegation.
"The incident happened at Tiananmen Square while an important government conference was taking place. The suddenness of the incident alarmed the central government," wrote a commentator on Duowei, an overseas Chinese news service with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The report said the investigation was assigned at the highest level.