Four men were arrested in Hong Kong in 12 hours after police uncovered a makeshift arms factory for producing home-made bullets and explosives near a Hong Kong hiking trail on Thursday evening.
After a tip-off, officers went to check an abandoned pre-war military structure near the Leaping Dragon Walk hiking trail in eastern Hong Kong Island and found 800 empty cartridges, 200 bullet heads, suspected gunpowder and a press machine.
Investigators believed they were being used to make ammunition. Ten rounds of rifle bullets and a haul of arrows and knives were also recovered.
Officers also found chemicals such as concentrated acid, ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, which they said could be used to produce explosives.
In a briefing in the early hours of Friday, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the organised crime and triad bureau said police believed the bullets were being made for rifles and handguns.
Seizures of partly made ammunition are rare in Hong Kong.
As of 11.30am on Friday, one of the four suspects, who was hooded and handcuffed, was escorted back to the site to gather evidence.
Before lunchtime, officers from the force’s elite search team – Key Points and Search Division – were also called in to comb the site.
In a meeting with the press on Friday night, Superintendent Yeung Yiu-chung from the bureau said: “The workshop at the site has a certain scale. It is absolutely capable to produce operable ammunitions.”
And investigators said the haul was made to serve the violent protests.
Li said: “From what we’ve learned, the makers of these haul of bullets and explosives had hoped to supply violent protesters to use”, but he stopped short of elaborating. He added that investigators could not rule out the makers might use the materials themselves.
The bullets were home-made and might have less power than those commercial products but still could harm to a degree, as shown by two suspected bullet hole-loaded shooting target boards picked near the abandoned military structure.
The arrest of the first three men came after officers received a call reporting the appearance of three suspicious men near the site at about 5.30pm.
Police bomb disposal officers were also deployed to the scene.
The three men, two students and a jobless man aged between 21 and 23, were arrested for possession of ammunition without a licence and possession of offensive weapons and instruments fit for unlawful purpose.
A hooded suspect was taken down the hill along the trail at 10.30pm, while a second man was escorted away an hour later. A third man remained on the hillside.
One of the men was later taken to a flat in nearby Cheerful Garden for a police search. Officers also picked up an object which resembled a rifle that was collected from a suspect’s home.
Shortly after 5am on Friday, police arrested the fourth suspect – also a Hongkonger, aged 25 – in a Fullview Garden flat in Siu Sai Wan, about two kilometres away from the site, for possession of offensive weapons.
The motives of the suspects had to be investigated. The police search would take hours as the site was large and it was dark, he said.
As onlookers gathered at the start of the trail near the Island Resort residential estate at Siu Sai Wan Promenade, dozens of officers in riot gear arrived to help escort the suspects to police vehicles.
Between December and January, police seized four handguns, an AR-15 assault rifle and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition in four cases. In early March, police found three pistols and HK$2.4 million worth of drugs in Sham Shui Po.
Following the seizures, Hong Kong customs planned to buy 3D scanners and bring in sniffer dogs to tackle the smuggling of firearms, ammunition and explosives.
In Hong Kong, the possession of firearms or ammunition without a permit carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.