(CNN) — The trail of blood outside the warehouse door was the only immediate sign that a murder had taken place.
But CCTV footage seized by police, and seen by CNN, revealed a brutal afternoon of carnage.
At midday on Sunday, May 24, three Zambian attackers with iron bars entered the grounds of a Chinese-owned textile warehouse in Lusaka. Police said they were pretending to be potential customers.
But the trio did not want to do business.
Over the next 17 minutes, the CCTV footage shows, they beat two men and one woman to death in the courtyard, before dragging their bodies into the adjoining warehouse.
That’s where the footage ends. According to police, the attackers then dismembered their bodies and used flammable materials from the Blue Star clothing business to set their bodies and the building ablaze, burning them so severely that it took Zambian authorities three days to retrieve their charred remains from the rubble.
Before fleeing, the attackers raided the property for valuables. A blood-stained machete was found by police.
The gruesome murder of 52-year-old Cao Guifang, the wife of the textile warehouse owner — who was in their home province of Jiangsu, in eastern China, when the attack happened — and her two male employees, Bao Junbin, 58, and Fan Minjie, 33, came at the end of a week when anti-Chinese sentiment in the Zambian capital was nearing boiling point.
In the days leading up to the murder, Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa had accused Chinese bosses in the capital of “slavery reloaded,” used the derogatory term “Chinaman,” and, stoking racial divides, reminded the public in a video posted on his Facebook account that “black Zambians did not originate coronavirus. It originated in China.”
There are an estimated 22,000 Chinese nationals living in Zambia, operating 280 companies, mostly spread between Lusaka and the copperbelt in the north. Beijing owns about 44% of Zambia’s debt, which has led to fear among some Zambians that China has too much control over the country.
While police have not directly linked the murder to anti-Chinese sentiment, the crime came as a reminder of the violent outbursts some Chinese have faced while living in Zambia, a key partner for China along its coveted Belt and Road project.
“Even some of the people who stayed here for more than 20 years, they’ve also been shocked by such kind of criminal activities,” says Eric Shen, a Chinese businessman who has been living in Zambia for more than a decade.