The Chinese government is refusing to admit today's crash was a suicide attack

People walk along the sidewalk of Chang'an Avenue as the smoke continues. Photo: Reuters

Smoke rises from a car which has just been rammed into the symbolic centre of Chinese political power. The entrance to the Forbidden city in Tiananmen Square.

Video obtained by The Times shows the moments just after a vehicle ploughed through crowds of tourists. Seconds later it bursts into flames, with three men inside. They didn't survive. Two bystanders were killed, 38 injured.

It's believed this was a suicide attack just feet from the iconic image of Chairman Mao.

Today the Chinese government spokeswoman deflected questions about the incident, saying the relevant authorities were dealing with what state media has been calling an accident.

But there's clearly a security operation underway. At checkpoints on roads leading into Beijing, police are searching for suspects linked with a group seeking independence for Xinjiang, a western province in China.

The region has frequently seen unrest. Earlier this year 27 people were killed during riots. Nine Chinese police officers were stabbed to death.

A policeman stands guard next to a special police vehicle near Tiananmen Gate. Credit: Reuters

At Tongren hospital in Beijing today, we managed to speak to one witness, a relative of one of those being treated - he claimed there was an explosion after the car crashed.

The survivors are being kept under guard, away from reporters. The authorities are trying to stop anyone caught up in the incident describing what they saw as a planned protest.

For now the Chinese government is refusing to openly admit that this was an attack, right in the heart of heavily guarded, politically sensitive Tiananmen Square.