Hong Kong Arrests 9, Including 6 Students, Over Alleged ‘Car Bomb’ Plot

Hong Kong police said they arrested nine people on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, raising fresh concern over potential violence in the aftermath of Beijing’s crackdown on political speech.

The group -- aged 15 to 39, including six high-school students -- planned to use explosives to attack transportation facilities including train stations and tunnels this month, Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah told reporters Tuesday. Describing the suspects as independence supporters and members of a group called Returning Valiant, Li said they had set up a lab at a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel and were producing the explosive acetone peroxide.

The suspects wanted “to attack some of the public facilities in Hong Kong, including the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, railways, court rooms and they even wanted to lay bombs in the rubbish bin on the street, with a view to maximize the damage caused to the society,” Li said. The group had recruited high-school students to carry out the attacks on the promise that they would get assistance to flee the city.

The nine, including five males and four females, were accused of engaging in terrorist activities under the national security law enacted by China last year. Police also froze about HK$600,000 ($77,000) in assets. It wasn’t immediately clear if the case was connected to the May arrests of five people accused of subverting state power, which the South China Morning Post and other local media subsequently linked to Returning Valiant.

The terrorism arrests come at a tense time in the former British colony, with a police officer stabbed last week by an attacker who later killed himself. Democracy activists have long warned that limiting legal options for criticizing the government could help drive radicals toward violence.

“This is certainly a tense moment, and one can see that anger and resentment has built up among Hong Kong people, and especially among young people,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired Hong Kong political science professor who moved to Australia after the national security law was enacted.

After some people sought to commemorate the death of the man who stabbed the officer, police warned the public against any “attempt to romanticize or glorify the despicable act with seditious intent to incite hatred in society.” The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, told reporters at a regular news briefing earlier Tuesday that her office had also received an envelope containing white powder.

“They have now turned from above-ground terrorist activities to underground hidden terrorist activities,” Lam said, adding that the police stabbing was “an alarm.” Lam blamed social media for the spread of extremist views, hinting at future action to curb internet communications.

“Before we have taken action to regulate the information, they have been exposed to hate messages, and they have been influenced in hating the government and also the police,” she said. “They have also been incited to take radical actions.”

Before Tuesday, Hong Kong had arrested at least 117 people under the security law. More than four-fifths of the people arrested so far have been accused of offenses related to speech.

Last week, police arrested individuals for tossing gas cannisters and bottles full of petrol near Lam’s official residence. The incident followed authorities’ decision to ban traditional protests on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, citing coronavirus measures.

The white powder sent to Lam’s office is still being analyzed, but police said Tuesday that they don’t believe it was a dangerous substance.

The financial hub has weathered a tumultuous political period since it was rocked by large and sometimes violent anti-China protests in 2019. The unrest dissipated after authorities banned public gatherings, citing the coronavirus pandemic, and has remained muted since China enacted the security legislation, which carries sentences as long as life in prison.

Hong Kong police have previously accused political radicals of violent plots involving explosives. In March 2020, police arrested 17 people in connection with suspected homemade bombs after overnight raids on 22 different properties.

In October 2019, at the height of the unrest, a remote-controlled explosive device was detonated near a police car in the city’s Mong Kok area. Two months later, Hong Kong police defused two bombs at a local Catholic school.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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