SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A U.S. official said Tuesday the government believes the driver who crashed into the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco the day before did so “with malign intent,” but police haven’t shared details about the driver’s identity or motive for what the Chinese government has branded a “violent attack.”
A witness waiting his turn to submit his visa documents at the consulate Monday described seeing the car barrel through the main doors at full speed before striking a wall. The driver was bleeding from his head as he exited the vehicle yelling about the C.C.P., an abbreviation for the Chinese Communist Party, Sergii Molchanov said.
San Francisco police arrived on scene and shot the driver, who died later in a hospital.
“We condemn this incident and all violence perpetrated against foreign diplomatic staff working in the United States,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.
U.S. government officials have been in contact with Chinese foreign ministry officials in the aftermath of the incident Monday, according to a White House official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official added that investigators believe the driver was “acting with malign intent.”
San Francisco police said Monday they didn’t know why the unidentified driver smashed through the front of the consulate, located in a residential neighborhood and next to a major street. The San Francisco Police Department said in a statement Tuesday it had no other information and that it would hold a town hall meeting within 10 days to discuss the fatal shooting.
Molchanov was in line waiting for his turn to submit his visa documents when the car, a blue Honda sedan, barreled in through the main doors at full speed, barely missing him.
Molchanov told The Associated Press that the car struck a wall, and he saw the driver, who was bleeding from his head, exit the car.
Molchanov took out his phone and recorded security guards approaching the man and several people running out of the building.
“Two security guards from the entrance tried to confront him and calm him down,” Molchanov said. “But I couldn’t see what he held in his hands.”
When it appeared that the man was attempting to grab something from his car, Molchanov said he rushed outside.
Shortly after that, police arrived on the scene. Molchanov said he heard two gunshots.
San Francisco police haven’t said how many officers fired or if the driver had a weapon.
Another witness said the driver was bleeding and holding knives when he exited the car and then began arguing with security guards.
Tony Xin told KTVU-TV he saw a security guard trying to detain the driver before he ran out of the building through the damaged doorway.
Xin said less than a minute after the driver got out of the car, five police officers arrived, initially with their guns drawn, and rushed into the building. He said they were later joined by more officers.
“I heard a really loud bang. I thought it was gunshots. I looked to the left and there was smoke,” Xin said. “I turned back and saw the guy take out a crossbow.”
The police department said it is working and coordinating with investigators from the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Consulate. The incident comes as San Francisco is preparing to host next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a gathering of world leaders from Pacific Rim nations. President Joe Biden plans to attend but it’s not clear if Chinese President Xi Jinping will come.
The statement from the Chinese Consulate demanded more details about what happened and asked that it be “dealt with seriously in accordance with the law.”
“Our embassy severely condemns this violent attack,” the statement said.
Consulates typically have some type of security, such as locally hired guards. Neither the consulate nor San Francisco police immediately responded to questions about what security was in place at the facility.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin again called for an investigation at a daily briefing Tuesday without giving any details about damage to the consulate or injuries to staff and visitors.
“We strongly urge the U.S. to launch a swift investigation and take effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese diplomatic missions and personnel there in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” Wang said, referring to the 1961 agreement governing relations between countries.
The San Francisco consulate has been targeted a number of times before. Among the most serious was a fire set by a Chinese man on New Year’s Day 2014 at the main entrance. It charred a section of the outside of the building.
The man, who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, told authorities he was driven by voices he was hearing. He was sentenced to nearly three years in prison.
Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.