After foiled bomb plots, Hong Kong anti-terror squad runs drill at mainland border

Christy Leung

Hong Kong’s anti-terror task force held a large-scale drill involving a bomb plot at the city’s border with mainland China on Friday, to boost its readiness amid what it called an “emergent threat of local terrorism”.

Police had earlier warned about the spectre of home-grown terrorism, with the force confiscating at least five guns and cracking 15 significant bomb cases in the city since anti-government protests began in June.

The Post reported last week that officers had considered invoking international anti-terror legislation for the first time when prosecuting suspects in recent bomb-making cases, to highlight how serious the situation had become.

The Inter-departmental Counter Terrorism Unit (ICTU), composed of officers from six disciplined services and headed by the Security Bureau, conducted an exercise code-named Catchmount at Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point at noon. About 250 officers from different departments participated in the drill.

The bomb squad were involved in Friday’s exercise. Photo: Felix Wong

The police force said it aimed to raise awareness of the threat of bombs at public facilities, and enhance the coordination and preparedness of departments when it comes to handling suspicious objects.

“Recently there are radical extremists trying to plant bombs and have them detonated in order to advance their own cause. This is very similar to tactics or methods that overseas terrorists used,” said Senior Superintendent Ernest Chu Man-lung from the Inter-departmental Counter Terrorism Unit (ICTU). “Therefore we always remind the members of public to beware of the emergent threat of local terrorism.”

Chu said police would step up patrols at the city’s border control points when they re-open following coronavirus-related closures.

“It is important to prevent terrorism. If we only respond when things happen, then it is too late,” Chu continued, adding that officers also would also track any terror-related activities online.

During the drill, a masked man dropped an imitation remote-controlled improvised explosive device into a rubbish bin next to a queue at a minibus terminus and walked off. As uniformed police walked past, the next part of the exercise involved the culprit detonating the device, causing mass casualties.

The rest of the drill played out involving the Emergency Unit, fire and ambulance crews, customs and immigration officers, and the bomb squad.

In early March, authorities seized more than two tonnes of explosives and chemicals, arresting 17 people. Police believed they were linked to three bomb plots in January and February, when an explosive device went off at Caritas Medical Centre in Cheung Sha Wan, a day before another one was found at Shenzhen Bay control point. At Lo Wu railway station, one of two devices found on a train caught fire and spurted white smoke.

Hong Kong bombing campaign ‘almost unprecedented’, police say

Officers believed the explosives were meant to hurt not only police but also members of the general public.

Some people claimed responsibility on a social media platform before and after the plots, saying they intended to pressure the government into closing the city’s border with mainland China in response to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Apart from home-made bombs, police handled 187 explosives cases in 2019 – 60 per cent more than the year before – amid what they called an “almost unprecedented” bombing campaign.

Between June that year and January 2020, during a period of often-violent social unrest that evolved from protests over the now-scrapped extradition bill, there were 162, accounting for the bulk of recent cases. The same eight-month period also brought 52 hoax bomb reports.

Following the surge in seizures, Hong Kong customs planned to buy 3D scanners and bring in sniffer dogs for the fight against the smuggling of firearms, ammunition and explosives.

The city’s threat level remained “moderate”, indicating the possibility of an attack but no specific intelligence suggesting Hong Kong is likely to be a target.

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