Four convicts are on the run after killing a police officer and breaking out of prison in suburban Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
The four hijacked a taxi and escaped after kidnapping and killing one officer and injuring a worker at Hohhot's No 2 prison around 2:30 pm on Saturday, according to Yan Bingqiang, deputy chief of police of Inner Mongolia.
When the taxi ran out of gas, the escapees hijacked another cab and headed toward downtown Hohhot, Yan said.
"There's a high possibility these men are on the lam somewhere in the city," he said. "We have taken measures to ensure the safety of all residents of Hohhot."
Warrants have been issued for the arrest of Qiao Haiqiang, Dong Jiaji, Gao Bo and Li Hongbin. All four are in their 20s.
More than 6,000 armed police and public security officers have started a regionwide search, according to Yan. Throughout Hohhot, police have set up more than 150 posts and are checking all vehicles coming into and out of the city.
Prison management is soliciting tips for the whereabouts of the runaways on a local television station. Two of the four were sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while the other two were given life imprisonment, police said.
A death sentence with a two-year reprieve usually translates into life imprisonment or a term of 15 years if no further crime is committed.
"People on reprieve generally don't commit further crimes during those two years," said Chen Jieren, a law analyst with China National Radio. "The reason these two convicts on death reprieve in Hohhot wanted to risk a prison break is worth noting."
The Hohhot No 2 prison's modern monitoring facilities and heavy police detachments should make it impossible for inmates to escape, according to Tang Ji, chief law reporter with Xinhua News Agency's Inner Mongolia bureau.
"The only chance for them to escape was while working at the brick factory, which is outside the prison," Tang said.
The Hohhot prison management bureau was unable to confirm or release anything in detail.