Man held in Beijing after triggering ‘explosion’ outside US embassy

A bomb that reportedly exploded outside the US embassy in Beijing on Thursday has been dismissed by police as merely as a "firework device".

The explosion happened on the street outside the embassy compound, the American embassy said. Beijing police said the lone suspect, a 26-year-old man from China’s Inner Mongolia region, had injured his hand and been taken to hospital. 

Police did not provide a motive. China and the United States have been involved in an escalating trade dispute initiated by Washington after the two sides imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of each other’s goods, with President Donald Trump threatening ultimately to impose punitive tariffs on all Chinese imports.

While Chinese officials and state media have been outspoken in their criticism of Washington’s trade moves, there has not been a groundswell of outrage on China’s heavily censored social media, and no reported boycotts of US goods.

Witnesses told Reuters that they heard an explosion near the embassy and felt tremors.

"I’d just arrived and started to queue and then heard a loud explosion about 100 metres away," said Li, a 19-year-old student. He said the blast happened shortly after 1pm as he queued for a visa.

A police vehicle appeared to have been damaged, with its back windshield missing, and was cordoned off by police before being removed, a Reuters witness said. There was no damage to US embassy property, the embassy and normal operations were soon resumed.

Crowds were still queueing outside the embassy after the explosion and traffic was moving as normal in an area of northeastern Beijing that is home to numerous embassies including those of France, India and Israel.

Postings on social media showed pictures of smoke close to where people line up outside the compound for visa appointments. Some video clips and images were later removed.

Reports suggested a police SUV vehicle had been damaged in the explosionCredit:
AP Photo/Andy Wong

Li Shaohui, a 58-year-old sanitation worker, said he felt the ground shake and that some people screamed.

"I thought first there was big a car crash," Li told Reuters, adding that the smoke had cleared quickly.

Staff members at the Indian and South Korean embassies said they were unaware of any unusual incident and were working as normal.

The state-run Global Times reported separately, citing a witness, that Chinese police took away a woman who sprayed herself with gasoline in a suspected self-immolation attempt outside the embassy at around 11 a.m. on Thursday.

Beijing police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Security in the Chinese capital is tight and protests are often quickly disbanded. Violent crime rates are low in China, according to official statistics.

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