Chinese authorities say five people are dead and at least 38 injured after a sports utility vehicle crashed into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, burst into flames.
Beijing police say the incident occurred shortly after noon Monday when a jeep rammed a section of a bridge leading into the Forbidden City.
Police say that all three individuals in the car, the driver and two others, were killed in the crash. A notice on the police social media account reported several bystanders and police were injured. Some foreigners were reported among those hurt.
Images of the incident were quickly removed from China’s social media sites, but could be seen on websites beyond the reach of Chinese authorities. In the photos, flames could be seen rising high above the jeep, not far from a large portrait of Mao Zedong.
Shortly after the incident, authorities locked down the area and erected a fence around the vehicle. Some reporters who photographed the incident were detained by police and forced to delete their footage.
It remains unclear if Monday’s incident was an accident or an intentional act carried out at the politically symbolic heart of Beijing. Tiananmen Square was the site of pro-democracy protests in 1989 that were brutally crushed by authorities and it remains an area under tight surveillance.
Authorities have said little about a possible motive or what might have caused the jeep to drive through a barricade and into crowds before crashing and catching fire.
Although Chinese authorities quickly removed any postings about the incident from China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog - including the statement from the Beijing police’s official site - some individuals wondered whether it was a terrorist attack or if the individuals had deliberately set themselves on fire.
Internal security is one of China’s biggest challenges and the country spends more on monitoring and policing its massive population than it does on its military.