BEIJING (AFP) - A series of bombs packed with ball-bearings exploded outside a provincial headquarters of China’s ruling Communist Party on Wednesday, police and reports said, killing at least one person.
The blasts in Taiyuan come a little over a week after a fatal car crash described by authorities as a “terrorist attack” in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, and days ahead of a highly anticipated meeting of top party leaders in Beijing.
“There were several explosions caused by small explosive devices near the party provincial commission in Taiyuan,” the capital of the northern province of Shanxi, local police said on a verified social media account.
“Public security officials are currently on the scene and working all-out to investigate the incident,” it added.
One person was confirmed dead, another was severely wounded and seven slightly hurt in the blasts, a provincial government news portal said, citing police.
Ball bearings were seen scattered around the scene, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported. They are an ingredient used by bombmakers to increase the chances of blasts inflicting injuries.
“The accident is suspected to be caused by self-made bombs,” it said.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that some of the explosives detonated in flowerbeds at the entrance to the party provincial commission.
Chinese media company Caixin reported on its verified microblog that according to sources with knowledge of the matter, “major leaders of Shanxi, including those in charge of petition work and public security, are holding an emergency meeting”.
Pictures posted on China’s hugely popular weibo social networks showed vehicle doors peppered with small impacts, and tyres with holes punched through them.
Other photos showed car windows blown out and debris scattered across the road, and one showed two metal spheres, the size of large marbles, that appeared to have been among the ball bearings sprayed by the bombs.
Xinhua quoted two witnesses near the site who said they heard a loud noise, then saw smoke, followed by a minivan exploding.
Images showed several fire engines on a road, which had been blocked to traffic, and a large crowd on one side of the street.
Several photos that appeared to have been taken from inside a car showed billowing grey smoke rising above a city street.
About 20 cars parked 100 metres away from the site had been damaged, CCTV reported, and local firefighters and police were conducting rescue work and an investigation.
“Witnesses said that there were seven sounds of explosion that lasted several minutes and were very powerful,” Caixin reported.
“Some interviewees said that they could feel the power of the blast wave even 100 metres away and that the ground was shaking.”
Chinese authorities maintain tight control over public security in the one-party state and place huge importance on maintaining social order.
While protests happen regularly, incidents of targeted violence are normally extremely rare.
But the Shanxi blasts come after a car barrelled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last week, killing two tourists and injuring dozens, with the three people inside dying after they set the vehicle on fire.
Authorities termed that incident “terrorism” and have said that it was carried out by several people from China’s far-western Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.
China’s top security official said a separatist group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was a behind-the-scenes supporter of the attack.
The Taiyuan explosions also come ahead of a highly anticipated meeting of top party leaders in Beijing this weekend, at which broad economic reforms are among the items expected to be on the agenda.
Following the Tiananmen attack, authorities moved quickly to clamp down on discussion of the incident, deleting photos and comments posted on China’s popular online social networks.
But the Chinese Internet was abuzz with dispatches and photos of the Taiyuan explosions on Wednesday, and “Shanxi provincial commission” was the fifth-most-popular search topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo site late Wednesday morning.