BEIJING - A "terrorist attack" in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, represents an embarrassing failure for the nation's vast police and intelligence apparatus and shows it cannot plug all security vulnerabilities, analysts say.
Communist China spends vast sums on ensuring order among a population of 1.35 billion people, more even than on its military, the world's largest.
Tiananmen, in the middle of the sprawling Chinese capital, has long been a magnet for protests both large and small, including the huge pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989 that challenged Communist Party rule.
The square is permanently under heavy security with uniformed and plainclothes police constantly on the lookout for any sign of trouble, though the spectre of a terrorist attack in the centre of Beijing raises the stakes significantly.
"Clearly the party will be horrified", David Tobin, a University of Glasgow expert on Chinese politics, told AFP. "This is a highly policed region. You wouldn't think that something like this would happen here. So this will make the party nervous."
The three people in the car which crashed on Monday, all of whom died, were from the same family, Beijing police said Wednesday, and another five people had been arrested.
It was a "carefully planned, organised and premeditated violent terrorist attack", they added - the first time authorities have admitted to such a strike taking place in the capital.
The names released for the dead and one of the apprehended suspects appear to belong to members of China's mainly Muslim Uighur minority, though police and media refrained from explicitly stating their ethnicity.
The car was licensed in China's far western region of Xinjiang, home to most of China's Uighurs, many of whom say they are victims of discrimination and ethnic profiling by the state, and the scene of periodic unrest.
Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that as well as the fact security measures were proven ineffective, the deadly nature of the incident in which at least one foreigner died compounded the embarrassment.
"It's a big loss of face for the authorities," he said, noting that the crash came ahead of a key Communist Party meeting set for next month in Beijing.