Hong Kong police are trying to track down more than 700 core extradition bill protesters believed to be behind recent violent confrontations, including the bloody clashes in a shopping centre last Sunday and the 11-hour trashing of the city’s legislature on July 1, the Post has learned.
Force insiders said most of those wanted are under the age of 25 and include many students from high schools, postsecondary institutions and universities in the city.
One source said several of the protesters had already fled Hong Kong. “They are local residents. Investigations show they left the city to study overseas,” he said.
Earlier, activists in Taiwan had said more than 30 protesters, including some involved in the storming of the Legislative Council building, had fled to the self-ruled island.
Among those who fled the city is Brian Leung Kai-ping, 25, who was the only protester to deliberately reveal his face in the main chamber of the Legislative Council building on July 1, as he urged others to stay after storming the building.
The sources said the core figures had been taught how to use face masks, helmets, gloves and goggles to hide their identities, how to daub surveillance cameras with paint and to use hand signals for on-site communication, making it difficult for local police to trace them and gather evidence.
As well as being used to protect protesters from pepper spray, umbrellas served to build barriers to prevent officers from filming them in the act, according to the source.
“After attacking police cordon lines, those hard-core protesters normally retreat and use the umbrella-wall as a screen to change their clothes and then leave the scene to avoid being identified by police,” he said.
He said officers had to collect security camera footage along the protesters’ escape routes and find images of the suspects when they had removed their masks.
Although police have used image recognition software to track down suspects, the source said officers would still have to pore over footage with the naked eye to cross-check and ensure they do not miss crucial evidence.
The Post was also told the core protesters have divided into two groups.
One group comprised 200 to 300 hard core radical protesters. “They are called martyrs and are deployed on the front line. They provoke police on site and use force and violent acts to attack police cordon lines and fight with officers,” another source said. After the attack, they retreat and change their clothes and leave before others move in.
There were more than 500 people in the other group. They are called “wo, lei, fei” in Cantonese, meaning “peaceful, reasonable and non-violent”.
“They are not involved in fights or clashes. Their roles are to deliver resources such as helmets, saline solution, plastic wraps and goggles, as well as bricks and railings, to the front line, ” he said.
Saying the recent confrontations were organised and premeditated, the source said he believed those behind them had scouted the sites and identified the location of security cameras and areas where they could hide provisions.
Towards the end of recent marches, radical protesters usually turned violent, acting by unlawful means to provoke and confront police.
“Normally these core protesters wearing face masks cut in line near the end of a public procession and mingle with the crowds,” the second source said. “Once they reach their designated location, [the martyrs] gear up before charging police cordon lines.”
The Post was told that police were first tracking down “martyrs” while trying to identify those behind the core protesters.
‘It wasn’t violence for violence’s sake’: the only unmasked protester at storming of legislature speaks
The sources said the “wo, lei, fei” group would be the next target and they would face arrest for aiding and abetting criminal activities.
The sources said the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau and the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West and New Territories South regional crime units have been tasked to investigate recent clashes.
A series of mass protests against the bill – which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions Hong Kong did not have an existing agreement with, including the mainland – have rocked the city since June.
Peaceful marches on consecutive Sundays, on June 9 and 16, were attended by an estimated 1 million and 2 million people respectively, while the police headquarters in Wan Chai was twice besieged by thousands of protesters, on June 21 and 26.
After clashes with demonstrators blockading the Legislative Council in Admiralty on June 12 and following the storming of the same building on July 1, police fired tear gas to disperse crowds.
Opponents of the bill, which Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor suspended on June 15, have now expanded the battlefield from Admiralty and Wan Chai to other districts of Hong Kong.
An estimated 230,000 protesters marched through the bustling tourist hub of Tsim Sha Tsui to the cross-border high-speed railway station in West Kowloon on July 6, marking the first mass rally to cross Victoria Harbour.
While the march was peaceful, many stayed behind after the procession ended and occupied the main streets of Mong Kok, confronting police late into the night.
Last Sunday, a peaceful march in Sha Tin drew an estimated 115,000 people before a confrontation started and then descended into violence that left 28 people injured, including 13 police officers.
Since June 12, when police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to disperse violent protesters outside the government complex in Admiralty, more than 120 people have been arrested in connection with the extradition bill protests, as well as for releasing the personal information of officers online.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong police anger has reached boiling point after force is cast as public enemy in extradition bill fiasco while protesters break law at will, insiders say
- Taiwan struggling to deal with influx of Hong Kong protesters seeking refuge