A knife-wielding Chinese man attacked two relatives of a coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team at a tourist site in Beijing, killing one and injuring the other on the first day of the Olympics on Saturday, team officials and state media said.
The man then committed suicide by throwing himself from the second story of the site, the 13th century Drum Tower just five miles from the main Olympics site.
The brutal attack shortly after midday was all the more shocking because of the rarity of violent crime against foreigners in tightly controlled China, which has ramped up security measures even more for the Olympics.
[ All Access: 2008 Beijing Olympics - Deaths ]
The stabbing came only hours after what by many accounts was the most spectacular opening ceremony in Olympic history and it has already dampened some of the enthusiasm.
“They are deeply saddened and shocked,” Darryl Seibel, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said of the volleyball team.
The U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement that two family members of a coach for the men’s indoor volleyball team were stabbed at the Drum Tower “during an attack by what local law enforcement authorities have indicated was a lone assailant.”
One of the family members was killed and the other was seriously injured, it said, without giving details.
The official Xinhua News Agency identified the attacker as Tang Yongming, 47, from the eastern city of Hangzhou. It said Tang attacked the two Americans and their Chinese tour guide, who was also injured, at 12:20 p.m. on the second level of the ancient tower, then leapt to his death immediately afterward. The second level of the tower is about 130 feet high.
Seibel said the two Americans who were attacked were not wearing anything that would have identified them as Americans or part of the U.S. team. He could not name the coach.
“They were not wearing apparel or anything that would have specifically identified them as being members of our delegation” or as Americans, he told The Associated Press.
He said it is “too early to say” whether the U.S. delegation or athletes will require additional security.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said it was aware of an incident involving two Americans and was working with Chinese authorities to find out more. He said U.S. officials were in contact with relatives of the two Americans who are in Beijing.
“Out of respect for the families involved, we can’t say more than that,” Don Q. Washington, another embassy spokesman, told reporters.
Police blocked off streets leading to the Drum Tower immediately after the attack and cordoned off the area with yellow police tape. Security officers were examining the scene on the tower and below.
Attacks on foreigners in China are extremely rare. A Canadian model was murdered last month in Shanghai, but police said that was because she stumbled onto a burglary.
In March, a screaming, bomb-strapped hostage-taker who commandeered a bus with 10 Australians aboard in the popular tourist city of Xi’an was shot to death by a police sniper.
Shanghai and Beijing are still safer than most foreign cities of their size. Punishments for crimes against foreigners are heavier than for crimes against Chinese, and police-linked neighborhood watch groups are highly vigilant. Chinese are not allowed to own guns.
Even so, the U.S. government now warns Americans against muggings, beatings and even carjackings, especially in the nightlife and shopping districts of large cities.
Built in the 13th century, the Drum Tower is one of the few ancient structures still in Beijing, and was used to tell time in imperial China for the city, using drummers who pounded their instruments to mark the hours. It is located on an important central axis of the city, to the north of the Forbidden City, the former home of the emperor.
The White House said President Bush, who is in Beijing for the opening days of the games, was informed of the incident, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims. It said the administration and the Beijing U.S. embassy have offered those families any assistance they need. Also, U.S. officials have been speaking to Chinese authorities about the incident.