TURPAN, China - Chinese state media demanded severe punishment on Thursday for those behind what China has said is a holy war aimed at Beijing, which it has blamed on Islamist militants from the restive Xinjiang region.
The exiled leader of Xinjiang's Muslim Uighur minority called for an independent probe into a crash on Monday when an SUV burst into flames after being driven into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, one of China's most closely guarded areas. The three occupants of the vehicle and two bystanders were killed, and dozens were injured.
US-based Rebiya Kadeer said she did not believe any kind of organised extremist Islamic movement was operating in Xinjiang, a view shared by rights groups and some experts.
"It is almost impossible for Uighurs to organise because of China's stringent controls and attacks," she said in an interview.
But police said Monday's incident was a carefully planned and organised "terrorist attack" carried out by people from Xinjiang. They announced they had apprehended five accomplices in Beijing who they said were Islamist militants planning a holy war. Their names suggest they are Uighurs.
Such an attack is a crime against humanity, the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said. The government should spare no effort to ensure Beijing's safety, it added.
"Violent terrorist crime is the shared enemy of all humanity, the shared enemy of all ethnic groups in the country, and it must be severely punished under the law," it said in an opinion piece on its website.
"Maintaining the capital's security and stability is a responsibility of utmost importance."
The English-language China Daily said the perpetrators will"go down in history as murderers not heroes".
Xinjiang, in China's west, has been beset by violence, blamed by China on Uighur separatists and extremists. Many Uighurs in the region, which borders Central Asian nations that were part of the former Soviet Union as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, chaff at Chinese controls on their religion, culture and language, although the government says they enjoy widespread freedoms.