A car crashed into a crowd of tourists and then burst into flames near the portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday, killing five people—one of whom was reportedly a foreigner—and injuring many more.
The vehicle, described as a jeep or SUV, “crashed into a guardrail of Jinshui Bridge on the moat of the Forbidden City before bursting into flames,” according to state-run news agency Xinhua , citing the municipal police. The driver and two passengers were killed. Eleven people were injured in the crash, Xinhua said, and a “further investigation” is underway. Two of the victims were described as “heavily injured,” and one is a woman with a head injury.
Photographs on social media showed a vehicle completely engulfed in flames and a plume of light grey smoke rising into the air near the portrait of Mao. A BBC team was briefly detained at the site, and the French news agency Agence France-Presse said two of its journalists were held temporarily, “with images deleted from their digital equipment.”
Tiananmen Square has been a politically charged area since the 1989 student protests and subsequent police crackdown that left dozens, some say hundreds, dead, and on Monday the area was quickly closed off after the vehicle caught fire.
Clashes between Chinese authorities and various minority groups have intensified in recent months, but there was no immediate proof that this was a deliberate act. More than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 to protest China’s policies. In August, more than 20 people were killed in western China, the area’s worst violence in years, after a police clashed with Uighurs, a Muslim minority group.