Hong Kong police arrest 9, including 6 secondary students, over bomb plot

A police officer viewing seized evidence during a press conference in Hong Kong on July 6, 2021.
A police officer viewing seized evidence during a press conference in Hong Kong on July 6, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - The Hong Kong police have arrested nine people aged 15 to 39  in connection with a bomb plot, officials said on Tuesday (July 6).

Of the five males and four females, six are secondary school students, said Senior Superintendent of the police national security department Li Kwai Wah, adding that the operation was conducted on Monday.

The others include a university management staff, a school staff and a driver.

In a briefing on Tuesday morning, the authorities said the group, detained under the national security law for terrorism, had sufficient funds to rent a room in a Tsim Sha Tsui hostel to set up an explosives lab.

The suspects had planned to place the bombs in a car and in public areas, including the crossover tunnel, courtrooms and in dustbins along the streets, to “maximise the damage caused to society”.

“As far as we know, they have already conducted the recce (of) at least two courtrooms in Hong Kong,” said Supt Li, referring to the group.

He said there was a good division of labour among the suspects, with some providing funds, some sourcing the items needed to make triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and others were the “scientists” producing the TATP in the room.

The nine are said to be independence supporters linked to a group, called Returning Valiant, whose members have been arrested in the past. In early May, members of Returning Valiant were arrested for subverting the state.

The students were recruited with promises of money and assistance to leave Hong Kong for good, Supt Li noted.

In the police operation, the authorities confiscated items including the materials to make TATP, airguns, electronic devices believed to be used in the planned attack, as well as HK$90,000 (S$15,600) in cash and SIM cards. From the cash amount, the equivalent of HK$10,000 was in foreign currency. 

The police have frozen HK$600,000 in bank funds linked to this plot.

This comes in the wake of the July 1 incident where a 50-year-old man stabbed a 28-year-old police officer on duty in Causeway Bay before stabbing himself in his chest. He died later the same night. The officer is in recovery.

July 1 marked not only the 24th anniversary of the handover from British rule back to the Chinese, but also was the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

In recent days, three arrests have been made related to inciting others to murder officers or set fire to police premises, following the July 1 stabbing.

Separately, a man and a woman aged 19 and 24, were arrested in connection with a suspected firebomb attack at the Chief Executive’s residence in Central on July 1.

A Guy Fawkes mask among the items seized during the police operation. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at the weekly briefing on Tuesday morning that her office has received an envelope containing white powder.

“They have now turned from above-ground terrorist activities to underground hidden terrorist activities. This is a hidden threat faced by us. We need to work on different fronts to tackle these threats,” she said.

Mrs Lam expressed dismay at residents, some of whom brought their children along, who mourned last Friday the death of the man who stabbed the officer.

"For a long time, citizens have been exposed to wrong ideas, such as achieving justice through illegal means."

Government departments, Mrs Lam noted, "shouldn't allow illegal ideas to filter through to the public through education, broadcasting, arts and culture, beautifying violence and clouding the conscience of the public".

She said “ideologies” posed risks to national security and urged parents, teachers and religious leaders to observe the behaviour of teenagers and report those who break the law to the authorities.

Mrs Lam added that on the policy front, the government will step up efforts to explore the implementation of relevant laws that will further stabilise society and the national security law.

Security Secretary Chris Tang on Tuesday suggested that scholars who have defended the public mourning of the man who died following a knife attack on the policeman could face prosecution – for allegedly encouraging people to support terrorism and even pushing people into becoming terrorists themselves.

Hong Kong has been deeply divided since an unprecedented series of oft-violent demonstrations rocked the city in the second half of 2019, where protesters demanded universal suffrage and accountability from the police.

Before Tuesday, at least 117 individuals were arrested under the security law, with more than four-fifths of them accused of offences to do with speech.

In March last year, the police raided a “bomb-making factory” in Hong Kong with 2.6 tonnes of chemicals and arrested 17 people over a plot to force the government to close its border with mainland China to curb the spread of Covid-19.