Police arrest suspect in stabbing death of four Iowa college instructors in China

Hong Kong

Police on Tuesday said they had arrested a suspect in the stabbing death of four U.S. college instructors in a public park in the northeastern Chinese city of Jilin.

Authorities identified the suspect by his surname, Cui, as a 55-year-old man from Longtan District. Police said he “collided with a foreigner while walking” in Beishan Park, a popular green space in downtown Jilin.

The suspect then allegedly stabbed the instructors as well as a Chinese tourist who stepped forward and tried to detain him during the incident, police said in a statement.

Police said they received the report around 11:49 a.m. local time on Monday, after which they dispatched police to the scene and transported the injured to hospital for treatment.

“Currently, all the injured have received appropriate medical treatment and their lives are not in danger,” the police said earlier, adding that the case was being investigated.

Teachers from Cornell College, a private liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, were injured Monday “in a serious accident” while participating in an affiliate program with Beihua University in the northeastern Chinese city of Jilin, according to the college.

“We have been in contact with all four instructors and are assisting them during this time,” Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said in a statement, adding that no students participated in the program.

Footage purporting to show the aftermath of the broad daylight attack, which appeared on Chinese social media on Monday but was quickly censored, shows two men and a woman lying on the ground covered in large bloodstains, surrounded by onlookers.

According to the recording, they appeared conscious and were talking on cell phones.

CNN located video of the attack in Beishan Park, a popular green space in downtown Jilin, less than half an hour’s drive from Beihua University. Monday was a public holiday in China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Tuesday that “four foreign teachers at Beihua University were attacked” during a visit to Beishan Park in Jilin on Monday morning, adding that they were immediately taken to hospital and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

“Police initially determined that the case was an isolated incident and are currently under further investigation,” ministry spokesman Lin Jian said at a regular news conference.

Iowa Rep. Adam Zabner told CNN that his brother, David Zabner, was one of the stabbing victims.

After speaking with him Tuesday morning Beijing time, Zabner said his brother, who was with Cornell during his second visit to China, was “doing well” and “has been stitched up and appears to be recovering.”

The other three victims survived the attack, Zabner said, adding that he could not comment on their health condition.

“I’m just extremely grateful that my brother is OK and that he survived the attack,” he told CNN.

“My family’s hope is for my brother to return home as soon as possible and ensure his health. We really just want to thank the U.S. Department of State for all their assistance, as well as our federal delegation from Iowa who were especially helpful.”

The U.S. Department of State said it is aware of reports of a knife incident in China and is monitoring the situation.

Knife attacks are not uncommon in China, where weapons are strictly controlled. The country has faced a wave of knife attacks in public places, including schools and hospitals. However, public attacks on foreigners are rare.

Monday’s attack in Jilin comes as China struggles to attract international visitors after three years of strict Covid-19 border controls. The event also comes amid efforts to boost educational exchanges with the United States as both countries seek to stabilize their tense relations.

The incident drew attention and concern from officials and lawmakers in Iowa. The state’s governor, Kim Reynolds, called it a “horrific attack.” Iowa State Representative Ashley Hinsonrepresenting the district where Cornell College is located, said college employees “were brutally stabbed” and vowed to “do everything in our power to bring Iowans home safely.”

Visuals and discussions about the attack were quickly removed on China’s heavily censored social media starting Monday. By noon on Tuesday, it appears that censorship had calmed down a bit, allowing comments to flow.

Some Chinese netizens called it a “terrible” incident, while others wondered why Chinese media did not report on the attack. Some also expressed concerns about China’s potential influence on China’s global image and the willingness of foreigners to visit the country amid a rise in nationalism and anti-American sentiment.

At a press conference on Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought to allay fears that the attack would affect educational exchanges between China and the US.

“Carrying out people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the United States is in the mutual interest of both sides and has received active support and response from various sectors in both countries,” spokesman Lin said.

“China is widely recognized as one of the safest countries in the world. “China has always taken effective measures and will continue to take appropriate measures to effectively protect the safety of all foreigners in China.”

Cornell College entered into a partnership with Beihua University in 2018 in which the Chinese institution will provide funding for teachers from the Iowa school to travel and live in China and teach part of a course in computer science, mathematics and physics for two years: weekly, according to with the information then posted on the university’s website.

China is trying to strengthen educational cooperation with the US, which has suffered major setbacks amid the Covid pandemic and bilateral tensions.

During a November visit to the U.S., Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced that his country would invite 50,000 young Americans to China over the next five years through exchange and study programs to strengthen personal ties between the two countries.

In his statement, the Chinese leader emphasized his enduring ties with Iowa. Nearly four decades ago, Xi stayed with a host family in Iowa during his first visit to the U.S. and found it an “unforgettable experience.”

Last week, Xi encouraged universities in China and the U.S. to “strengthen exchanges and cooperation” in a letter to the president of Kean University in New Jersey, which state media reports has a China-based joint venture with Wenzhou University.

China has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world, due in part to strict gun control and powerful mass surveillance.

However, he still faces mass knife attacks in public places. In May, two people were killed and another 21 injured in a stabbing attack at a hospital in southwestern Yunnan province.

Last year, six people were killed and one injured in an early morning stabbing incident outside a kindergarten in the southern province of Guangdong. However, as a result of a stabbing in 2022, also in a kindergarten, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, three people died and six were injured.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported a bad day for stabbings. The attack took place on Monday.