More than a dozen blasts killed at least seven people in southern China on Wednesday barely an hour before workers went home for one of the biggest holidays on the Chinese calendar.
The "massive" explosions came from package bombs sent to 13 public places, including a hospital, local government office, shopping mall, prison, vegetable market, disease control centre and supermarket, state media reported.
Local police quickly said terrorism was not to blame, calling it a "criminal" matter and saying they had a 33-year-old suspect, surnamed Wei.
But the co-ordinated attacks, which came just before 5 p.m. and the start of the Oct. 1 National Day holidays, injured at least 50 and left wide-scale destruction.
Photos published online showed a cloud of smoke rising into the air, a half-collapsed building, a vehicle thrust onto its side in a rubble-filled street and victims covered in blood and dirt being aided by people on the streets.
Most of the explosions hit Liucheng, a county in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region located 300 kilometres northeast of the border with Vietnam. One also hit nearby Liuzhuo, a historic city of four million frequented by tourists, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Those near the blasts posted messages on social media about their tremendous force. One person described a bomb on the ground floor of a building that destroyed the first-floor stairwell and sent a bicycle flying 40 to 50 metres. "The blast hit everywhere – a bus stop, hospital, even the government building," the person wrote. "So frightened."
Those near the attack labelled it an act of terror.
"I always thought terrorists or bombs were very far away from me, but this happened right next to me!" another person wrote on social media. "Until that moment I didn't understand that danger is really everywhere."
Another added: "Should take a knife to kill whoever did it."
China has in recent years grappled with a series of deadly attacks, in some cases blaming terrorist extremists, in others local criminals or people acting out of desperation.
Car, knife and bomb attacks have hit tourist sites, train stations and vegetable markets in Beijing, the southern city of Kunming and Urumqi, the capital of China's western Xinjiang region. China has blamed people associated with a separatist movement in Xinjiang. That region has seen violent tensions between authorities and the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority group, and China has raised concern about ties between Uyghur extremists and other international terror groups.
But local concerns have also propelled violence. In 2013, a series of bombs killed one and injured eight others outside the local Communist government office in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. That blast littered streets with nails and metal pellets. Police later arrested a 41-year-old ex-convict, and said they had discovered homemade bombs at his home, although observers questioned the speed of the arrest.
Chinese cities regularly experience protests from groups with all sorts of grievances, including unpaid workers, members of minorities who feel they have been mistreated and people concerned about forced relocations and industrial development near residential areas.
With a report from Yu Mei.