BEIJING (AP) — A court in western China sentenced three people to death Monday for planning a deadly car ramming at Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Gate last year that was blamed on Muslim separatists, state media reported.
The three were accused of providing funds to carry out the Oct. 28 attack, in which a car plowed through tourists and ended up in a fiery crash in the heart of Beijing, killing two bystanders and the three attackers.
A court in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi sentenced the three to death, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Five other people were given prison sentences, with four receiving terms of five to 20 years and one getting a life sentence.
Xinhua said they had traveled to Beijing on Oct. 7, 2013, to deliver money to buy a jeep, gasoline, knives and other materials related to the attack.
The eight were arrested within days of the incident. A Chinese visitor and a tourist from the Philippines were killed in the attack, along with the vehicle’s driver, his wife and mother-in-law, according to Chinese authorities.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based group World Uyghur Congress, said the speedy trials were politically motivated and deprived the defendants of their legal rights.
The attack was the first to strike Beijing in recent years. It pointed to a new level of violence and lethal intent in the long-simmering insurgency against Chinese rule in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang waged by radicals among the native Turkic Uighur Muslim population.
The Tiananmen Gate attack was followed by similar incidents in Xinjiang, including one on May 22 in which men driving off-road vehicles and throwing explosives plowed through a crowded market in Urumqi, killing 39 people. Police said four suspects were killed at the scene and a fifth was caught that evening in an area about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Urumqi.
Beijing says unrest among Uighurs is caused by extremist groups with ties to Islamic terror groups abroad, but has shown little direct evidence.
Uighur activists say public resentment against Beijing is fueled by an influx of settlers from China’s Han ethnic majority, economic disenfranchisement and onerous restrictions on Uighur religious and cultural practices.
Death sentences in China are automatically forwarded to the Supreme People’s Court for appeal but are rarely overturned. While official figures are not released, China is believed to execute more prisoners than the rest of the world combined.