The suspect behind the explosion outside the US embassy in Beijing on Thursday had “paranoid personality disorder” and suffered from hallucinations, local police have said.

Beijing’s Public Security Bureau said in a statement on Thursday evening that a man surnamed Jiang detonated a suspected “firecracker device” at the intersection of Tianze Lu and Anjialou Lu at around 1pm. Afterwards, police recovered a lighter, firecracker residue and the remains of three sticks of explosives at the scene.

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An announcement by the Beijing police. Photo: Weibo screenshot.

According to the statement, Jiang’s family members said he had hallucinations since late 2016 and could not find work, and police found medical records showing Jiang was diagnosed with “paranoid personality disorder.”

Jiang suffered a hand injury but no one else was reported hurt.

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Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said it was an “isolated security event” on Thursday, adding that “Chinese police are handling it in a timely and appropriate manner.”

Citing a visa agent at the embassy, the New York Times reported that the suspect “had been trying to call attention to a human rights issue.”

Information lockdown

A woman who spoke to a group of reporters near the scene was interrupted and taken away by authorities, according to international and Hong Kong media.

According to AFP journalist Rebecca Davis, the woman was shoved into a car by a group of men as she shouted, “I don’t know them.”

News of the explosion first circulated on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, but posts by eyewitnesses and commentators could no longer be found on late Thursday. A Weibo search for “US embassy” on Friday only returned posts by state media.

Beijing explosion Weibo post
Posts on Weibo containing photos and videos of the scene accessed by HKFP shortly after the incident are no longer available. Photo: Weibo screenshot.

Below the statement by the Beijing police, some online commentators expressed scepticism: “Whenever something happens the excuse is mental illness,” one said.

However, others said there was no reason to distrust the police. “The internet has a worrying trend, that is people always oppose what the government says. That’s bad!” another commentator said.

The US embassy is located in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, near the Israeli and South Korean embassies. The 10-acre compound features a bulletproof glass wall and is the third largest US embassy in the world.

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Comments under the Beijing police statement. Photo: Weibo screenshot.

Nationalist tabloid Global Times reported that, at 11am on Thursday, police took away a woman suspected of attempting to self-immolate outside the US embassy by spraying gasoline on herself. It is still unknown whether the two incidents were related.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.