A minivan on Friday caught fire and ploughed into pedestrians after veering onto a crowded sidewalk outside a Starbucks outlet in China’s financial hub Shanghai, injuring 18 people, triggering fears that the crash was a terror attack.
Police, however, said the crash was not intentional and it was an accident and not an attack, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The police has ruled the incident as a “traffic accident”, saying it occurred when flammable materials inside the car burst into flames, causing the van’s 40-year-old driver to lose control of the vehicle.
The driver was identified by police as a man surnamed Chen.
The champagne-coloured minivan was moving from Xinchang Road to West Nanjing Road when it went out of control and crashed into the sidewalk right in front of Starbucks store, the report said.
According to an initial investigation, he is thought to have been illegally transporting gas bottles and was smoking at the time of the crash.
Security was tight in the city in view of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit.
Police also said that the vehicle was carrying six persons, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The injured people were shifted to a nearby hospital for treatment, a statement by the local government said, adding that the fire in the minivan had been put out.
A video posted by the Post showed the van was on fire and some of the gas bottles exploded, creating panic among the passers-by.
The vehicle was on fire before crashing into the sidewalk in front of the Starbucks cafe around the Shanghai People’s Park, local media reported.
Eighteen people were injured in the incident. Three of those injured are said to be in a serious condition, the report said.
A video posted by the report said the van was on fire and thick smoke emanated from it.
Photos posted on the Weibo, Chinese version of Twitter, showed several people lying on the ground and fire fighters trying to put off the fire.
A witness, identified only by her surname Qian, said that immediately after the incident, some passers-by broke the vehicle window with stones to get to the driver, Shanghai-based news portal The Paper reported.
“I think the driver had passed out. People had to break the window to save him,” Qian was quoted as saying by the Post.
Another witness, who was not identified, said: “There were gas bottles in the vehicle. The van was burning but the bottles did to catch fire”.
“There were six persons in the van. A woman whom rescuers pulled out was badly burnt,” the witness said.
A passer-by wrote in a WeChat post that a few people were trapped under the van after the incident.
The crash triggered fear among public that it was a terror attack in the heart of the Chinese financial hub.
A similar incident occurred in 2013 when five people were killed and nearly 40 injured in a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square.
On October 28, 2013, eight militants from restive Xinjiang province ploughed their vehicle into a crowd. The attack was described by the state media as China’s 9/11 equating it with the deadly terror attacks in the US in 2001.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Image: People walk in front of a Starbucks after a vehicle caught fire and mounted the pavement, ploughing into pedestrians in a busy part of central Shanghai, China. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters