HONG KONG • Panic struck evening rush-hour commuters on Hong Kong's subway system after a man tried to hurl a petrol bomb and caused a fire to break out in a passenger cabin, injuring at least 15 people, media reports said.
Videos circulating online showed chaos on the platform at Tsim Sha Tsui station at about 7pm yesterday, with parts of the cabin on fire and the purported perpetrator lying on the platform with his trousers ablaze as bystanders tried to smother the flames.
"A man tried to hurl a lit Molotov cocktail (petrol bomb) on board a packed train when it was about to reach Tsim Sha Tsui platform and he caught fire," a police source was quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) as saying.
It was extinguished by staff of Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the company which operates Hong Kong's subway.
Police counter-terrorism officers, who were deployed to patrol the MTR network to beef up security in response to global terrorist threats, were sent to the scene and the station was quickly evacuated, said reports.
Official broadcaster RTHK, also citing a police source, said the man has been arrested on suspicion of arson. He is believed to have suffered third-degree burns, and is undergoing surgery in hospital.
Yau Tsim district police chief Kwok Pak Chung said a 60-year-old man surnamed Cheung was arrested in connection with the incident.
The man claimed to have started the fire for "personal reasons", Mr Kwok said, according to SCMP.
I saw fire two compartments away, there was a lot of smoke because... smoke in one compartment quickly filled the entire train. One minute we were all playing with our phones, the next, there was smoke everywhere. ''
INTERIOR DESIGNER RAY CHAU, 27, who was travelling to Mong Kok on the train.
The police chief said there was no evidence to indicate that the incident was a terrorist attack.
"Our initial investigations show the incident has nothing to do with (terrorism)," he said, adding that 160 police officers were deployed.
Ming Pao Daily News said at least 15 people were injured, most of them with burns. Multiple casualties were carried out of the station on stretchers, while paramedics attended to others outside on the street, with a line of ambulances and fire engines parked in Nathan Road.
The incident is a rare occurrence in the Asian financial hub, where the transportation network is known for its safety and efficiency.
MTR announced that trains were skipping Tsim Sha Tsui station, which services a popular retail district, and asked commuters to consider switching to other forms of transport.
Interior designer Ray Chau, 27, was travelling to Mong Kok when he heard the train captain announce that all passengers would have to get off at Tsim Sha Tsui station.
"I saw fire two compartments away, there was a lot of smoke because... smoke in one compartment quickly filled the entire train," Mr Chau told SCMP.
"One minute we were all playing with our phones, the next, there was smoke everywhere. Some people thought there was an explosion, many people were screaming."
Mr Chau recalled seeing a burn victim on the platform.
"One man was completely on fire, his long trousers became shorts... he crawled and fell, others helped to put out the fire," he told SCMP.
WARNING: VIDEOS CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT