The Chinese government suspects that Monday's incident in which a vehicle ploughed into pedestrians in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing five including the three people in the vehicle, was a suicide attack.
“It looks like a premeditated suicide attack,” a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions for talking to the foreign media.
Sources say police are still investigating and have yet to determine the identities of the three people in the vehicle, but Chinese police are reported to be searching for two suspects from the restive Xinjiang region.
Hours after the attack, local hotels said they received a notice from Beijing police asking whether they had hosted the two suspects, who had names common in ethnic Uighur communities. It was not clear if the suspects were among the five dead -- three of who were in the vehicle, and two who were pedestrians.
Police said the vehicle was on a busy street near the famous square when it veered onto a pedestrian area and crashed, catching fire near an iconic picture of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Several witnesses said they heard an explosion before seeing the smoke and flames.
Authorities descended on the scene shortly after the incident, erecting barriers to prevent onlookers and evacuating the highly-sensitive area.
No word was given about a possible cause, and pictures of the incident were quickly deleted from the Chinese microblog site Weibo.
Tiananmen Square was the scene of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy protest that ended in a bloody crackdown by Chinese authorities. It is surrounded by the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's parliament, and the mausoleum that holds the remains of Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China.
Some information for this report was contributed by Reuters.