Chinese police say a suspect is in custody in the stabbing of 4 U.S. college instructors

Tourists walk past a gateway with the name "Beishan" seen at the Beishan Park in northeastern China's Jilin province on Jan 23, 2020. Four instructors from Iowa's Cornell College teaching at Beihua University in northeastern China were attacked in the Beishan public park, reportedly with a knife, officials at the U.S. school and the State Department said Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Zhu Wanchang/CNS Photos via AP)
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Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police have detained a suspect in a stabbing attack on four instructors from Iowa’s Cornell College who were teaching at a Chinese university in the northeast city of Jilin, officials said Tuesday.

Jilin city police said a 55-year-old man surnamed Cui was walking in a public park on Monday when he bumped into a foreigner. He stabbed the foreigner and three other foreigners who were with him, and also stabbed a Chinese person who approached in an attempt to intervene, police said.

A police statement did not give any indication of the motive for the attack.

The instructors from Cornell College were teaching at Beihua University, officials at the U.S. school said.

The injured were rushed to a hospital for treatment and none was in critical condition, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a daily briefing Tuesday. He said police believe the attack in Jilin city’s Beishan Park was an isolated incident, based on a preliminary assessment, and the investigation is ongoing.

Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said in a statement that the instructors were attacked while at the park with a faculty member from Beihua, which is in an outlying part of Jilin, an industrial city about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) northeast of Beijing. Monday was a public holiday in China.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, posted on the social media site X that he was “angered and deeply troubled by the stabbing” of three U.S. citizens and one non-citizen resident of Iowa. “We are doing all we can do help them and hope for their full & speedy recovery,” he wrote.

The attack happened as both Beijing and Washington are seeking to expand people-to-people exchanges to help bolster relations amid tensions over trade and such international issues as Taiwan, the South China Sea and the war in Ukraine.

An Iowa state lawmaker posted a statement on Instagram saying his brother, David Zabner, had been wounded during a stabbing attack in Jilin. Rep. Adam Zabner described his brother as a doctoral student at Tufts University who was in China under the Cornell-Beihua relationship.

“I spoke to David a few minutes ago, he is recovering from his injuries and doing well,” Adam Zabner wrote, adding that his brother was grateful for the care he received at a hospital.

News of the incident was suppressed in China, where the government maintains control on information about anything considered sensitive. News media outlets had not reported it. Some social media accounts posted foreign media reports about the attack, but a hashtag about it was blocked on a popular portal and photos and video of the incident were quickly taken down.

Cornell spokesperson Jen Visser said in an email that the college was still gathering information about what happened.

Visser said the private college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, partners with Beihua University. A college news release from 2018, when the program started, says Beihua provides funding for Cornell professors to travel to China to teach a portion of courses in computer science, mathematics and physics over a two-week period.

According to a 2020 post on Beihua’s website, the Chinese university uses American teaching methods and resources to give engineering students an international perspective and English-language ability.

About one-third of the core courses in the program use U.S. textbooks and are taught by American professors, according to the post. Students can apply to study for two years of their four-year education at Cornell College and receive degrees from both institutions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has unveiled a plan to invite 50,000 young Americans to China in the next five years, though Chinese diplomats say a travel advisory by the U.S. State Department has discouraged Americans from visiting China.

Citing arbitrary detentions as well as exit bans that could prevent Americans from leaving the country, the State Department has issued a Level 3 travel advisory — the second-highest warning level — for mainland China. It urges Americans to “reconsider travel” to China.

Some American universities have suspended their China programs due to the travel advisory.

Lin, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said China has taken effective measures to protect the safety of foreigners. “We believe that the isolated incident will not disrupt normal cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries,” he said.