The White House on Tuesday condemned a violent crash at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco where a man rammed a car into the lobby, creating a chaotic scene that ended with police shooting the driver, who later died at the 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 White House official added that investigators believe the driver was “acting with malign intent.”
As of Tuesday morning, police had shared no additional details on the identity of the driver or how the incident unfolded. San Francisco police said Monday they didn’t know why the unidentified driver smashed through the front of the consulate, located in a residential neighbourhood and next to a major street. In a statement, the Chinese Consulate general described it as a “violent attack.”
Police descended on the consulate shortly after 3 p.m. Monday in response to a report of a vehicle crashing into the building and urged people to avoid the area. Video from the scene showed a blue Honda sedan inside the lobby of the consulate’s visa office and people running to exit the building.
Officers entered the building, made contact with the suspect and opened fire, San Francisco police Sgt. Kathryn Winters said during a brief news conference. Despite “life-saving efforts” the suspect died at a hospital.
Police did not describe how the shooting unfolded, how many officers fired, or if the driver had a weapon. There were no reports of any injured people inside the building.
A witness who was inside the consulate said the man drove right through the front of the building, then got out of the car and was bleeding and holding knives. He then began arguing with security guards.
Tony Xin told KTVU-TV that he saw the driver had blood on his head and was holding two knives. Xin saw a security guard trying to detain the driver before he ran out of the building through the damaged doorway.
“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.”
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.
Sergii Molchanov was in line waiting for his turn to submit his visa documents at the consulate Monday when the car barrelled 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 said the man then started yelling about the C.C.P., an abbreviation for the Chinese Communist Party.
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.
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.
The department said it is working and co-ordinating 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.