A driver of a car that crashed and burst into flames in Tiananmen Square in Beijing this week may have been on a deadly revenge attack after losing a family member in communal riots and a brother in a mysterious traffic accident, according to sources.
Usmen Hesen, an ethnic minority Uyghur from China's troubled Xinjiang region, lost the family member during the 2009 bloody riots between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in the regional capital Urumqi, a listener told RFA Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another source—Hesen's school classmate—claimed his younger brother had died in a mysterious traffic accident several years ago that had been blamed on the majority Han Chinese or the Chinese authorities.
The RFA listener, who claims to know Hesen's family, said that he may have plowed his flaming SUV into a crowd at Tiananmen Square on Oct. 28 to avenge the "disappearance" of his family member following the July 5, 2009 riots in China’s worst ethnic violence for decades.
"[The crash] was to take revenge for one of the missing loved ones," the listener said, without identifying the family member.
The car crash in Tiananmen Square killed Hesen, 33, and his wife and mother, both of whom were in the vehicle, in what the Chinese authorities called a "violent terrorist attack."
Thousands of Uyghurs had gone missing since they were arrested in large sweep operations following the Urumqi riots, Uyghur groups have claimed.
The exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has documented more than 30 missing cases in the wake of the clashes in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uyghurs who say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls under Beijing’s policies.
The RFA listener as well as local officials confirmed that Hesen and his family hailed from Xinjiang's Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture.
Official media reports had said that Hesen and mother Kuwanhan Reyim were from Akto county but did not identify their township, and said that his wife Gulkiz Gini was from Atush (Artux) city.
Hesen grew up and went to school in a town called Ujme in Akto county, the listener said.
Ujme town head Exmetjan Ababekri confirmed with RFA that Hesen was from his town but doubted that the Tiananmen crash stemmed from the Urumqi riots.
"We are not aware of the family having any issue with the government,” he said.
The WUC had listed two Uyghurs missing from the Urumqi riots as coming from the Kizilsu Kirghiz prefecture and none of them appeared to be linked to Hesen, although some reports have suggested that there were about 10 missing Uyghurs from the prefecture.
Hesen's classmate Qasimjan Mijit said that his younger brother, Ablikim Hesen, was killed several years ago in a mysterious traffic accident which he had blamed on the Han Chinese or the Chinese authorities.
"His brother's body and motorcycle were fished out from an irrigation canal," Mijit, who resides in Ujme town, told RFA.
"Police said it was traffic accident. I remember him blaming his brother's death on the Chinese. But I did not know whether he was referring to the Han Chinese or the Chinese government."
Mijit said that the children of Hesen's older brother and sister had lived in Urumqi, indicating that they may have been among those missing following the 2009 riots and could have been a reason for Hesen's alleged raid on Tiananmen Square.
He said that Hesen, whom he met five or six years ago, was of medium height, fair with thick eyebrows, and a successful businessman, but added that he had expressed concern over the future of the Uyghurs.
"He looked like a boss. He opened a restaurant and sold kebabs in Chinese cities," Mijit said.
"He mainly talked about business and the life of Uyghurs in Chinese cities. I remember him saying that life is always hard for Uyghurs no matter where they live."
Abla Dawut, a village secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Akto county, said that a local government meeting had discussed the Tiananmen Square crash this week, confirming that the three "perpetrators of the attack" were from Kizilsu Kirghiz prefecture.
He said police in his area had been arresting Uyghurs believed linked to the Tiananmen crash, which had also left two tourists dead and injured dozens at the popular site and symbolic heart of the Chinese state.
"Some of the arrested were sent to the county and some have been released. The incident has caused much panic," he said.
Ujme town head Ababekri said that township authorities did background checks on Hesen and his family after being informed of the car crash and that they had discovered his last visit to Akto county was in 2007.
His mother had left Akto in September for Urumqi to seek treatment for a health problem, Ababekri said.
The Chinese authorities on Friday blamed a militant Islamist group for the Tiananmen raid.
Meng Jianzhu, head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's powerful politics and legal affairs committee, said the little-known East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was responsible for the attack.
Many Uygurs refer to Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics, as East Turkestan.
Xinjiang, which came under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan Republics in the 1930s and 1940s, has seen a string of violent incidents in recent years as Beijing tightens security measures and extends house-to-house raids targeting Uyghur families.
ETIM seeks independence for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and is designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United Nations.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.