BEIJING – Beijing launched armed police patrols Monday to handle violent incidents in the capital, city authorities said, three weeks ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and after a series of attacks on civilians.
The armed division, which has 150 vehicles, aims to “strike on terrorist and violent crimes in a rapid and effective way,” the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said on its verified account on Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The patrols are being deployed in the face of “the current severe and complicated situation of anti-terrorism,” it said.
The Chinese government is on alert after a series of dramatic attacks it blames on militants from far western Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority.
A fiery vehicle crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — the symbolic heart of the Chinese state — last October was followed by a horrific knife assault in March at a railway station in the southern city of Kunming that left 29 dead and 143 wounded — an event some Chinese media have dubbed the country’s “9/11.”
Two weeks ago, assailants using knives and explosive devices attached to their bodies attacked a train station in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, leaving three dead — including two alleged attackers — and 79 wounded.
The Beijing PSB said each patrol vehicle will have at least two armed police officers and one auxiliary on every shift, who will arrive on the scene within three minutes of a report.
They will park at main roads, crowded venues and unspecified “key areas” — possibly a reference to politically sensitive sites such as Tiananmen Square — and set up checkpoints, it said, adding, that they “will respond immediately whenever an emergency takes place.”
State-run media posted pictures of black Hummer-like vehicles online.
The announcement came three weeks ahead of the sensitive June 4 anniversary of the brutal suppression of huge anti-government protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when hundreds — by some estimates, thousands — were killed.
In Xinjiang, police arrested 232 people who are alleged to “have circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said Monday, citing a Legal Daily report.
Xinjiang’s regional government announced a ban in late March on downloading, saving or spreading “terror-related” videos online.
Beijing says groups including the Turkestan Islamic Party and East Turkestan Islamic Movement, influenced by al-Qaida, have inspired and even orchestrated violence in China from Central Asia, which borders Xinjiang.
Some experts, however, question the influence of the TIP, a shadowy organization that has released videos praising attacks in China but has yet to explicitly claim responsibility for them.
Last week, knife-wielding man was shot and caught after a slashing attack that injured six people at a train station in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Rights groups say tensions in Xinjiang are driven mainly by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures, and immigration by majority Han Chinese — factors that have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.
Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the overseas-based World Uyghur Congress, criticized the tightening of controls on Internet use in Xinjiang.
Rather than fight terrorism, he argued, the move is geared toward “cracking down on Uighurs who are using the Internet to reveal China’s intolerable policies” in the region.
“The repression has led to an ‘Internet-phobia’ among Uighurs,” he said.