BEIJING (AP) — China has indicted eight people on terrorism charges in connection with an attack on Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Gate last year that killed two tourists and three assailants, the government said Saturday.
The eight were arrested within days of the October 28 attack, in which a man drove an SUV through a crowd of tourists before stopping in front of the gate and setting the vehicle on fire. A Chinese visitor and a tourist from the Philippines were killed, along with the vehicles driver, his wife and mother-in-law, according to Chinese authorities.
The attack was the first to strike Beijing in recent memory. It pointed to a new level of violence and lethal intent in the long simmering insurgency against Chinese rule in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang waged by radicals among the native Turkic Uighur Muslim population.
Notice of the indictments posted on the Xinjiang regional prosecutor’s website said the eight would stand trial at the intermediate court in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi. They were accused of organizing, leading and participating in a terrorist organization as well as endangering public security. The charges are punishable with a maximum penalty of death.
On Tuesday, authorities said police in southwestern Xinjiang foiled a bomb plot and arrested five people. The government says more than 200 people have been detained this month in Xinjiang and 23 extremist groups broken up, though it has released no details about them.
The Tiananmen Gate attack has been followed by similar incidents in Xinjiang, including one last Thursday in which men driving off-road vehicles and throwing explosives plowed through a crowded market in Urumqi, killing 39 people. Police said four suspects were killed at the scene and a fifth was caught Thursday evening in an area about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Urumqi.
Beijing says unrest among Uighurs is caused by extremist groups with ties to Islamic terror groups abroad, but has shown little direct evidence.
Uighur activists say public resentment against Beijing is fueled by an influx of settlers from China’s Han ethnic majority, economic disenfranchisement and onerous restrictions on Uighur religious and cultural practices.