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Hong Kong Police Make ‘Largest Ever’ Seizure of Explosives in Lead Up to Protests

Three men have been arrested over the haul, which included the same "extremely powerful" explosive used in the Sri Lanka Easter bombings.

by Gavin Butler
22 July 2019, 9:26am

Riot police use bean bag rounds to disperse anti-extradition bill demonstrators. Image via Reuters

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

Police in Hong Kong uncovered a stash of powerful, highly unstable explosives on Friday night, as thousands of people prepared to storm the streets for yet another mass protest on Sunday. Acting on intelligence received, officers raided a homemade laboratory in a Tsuen Wan industrial building at about 10:30 PM, where they found 2 kilograms of explosives, 10 petrol bombs, and acidic substances, according to South China Morning Post.

"I think without a doubt this is the largest seizure [of this kind] we have ever come across in Hong Kong," said senior bomb disposal officer Alick McWhirter. Among the materials was a substance known as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP: an "extremely powerful" explosive that has been used in terrorist attacks around the world, including the November 2015 Paris attacks, the 2018 bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia, and the Sri Lanka Easter bombings earlier this year.

“It is well known, unstable, and dangerous,” said Alick.

A 27-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possessing explosives, and senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said that investigators were looking into his background to determine whether he was connected to the mass protest planned for Sunday. Two men, both aged 25, were also arrested on Saturday night—one in Tsuen Wan, the other in Sheung Shui. They could face up to 20 years in jail.

The police bomb squad conducted controlled explosions on site at the Lung Shing Factory Building on Saturday in order to dispose of the volatile materials. All explosives had been safely handled by 9 PM on Saturday.

Increasingly violent protests have been unfolding in the streets of Hong Kong for several weeks now, triggered by a contentious proposal put forward by the government to introduce a bill that would allow China to extradite people from Hong Kong to the mainland. For many, this extradition bill symbolised a growing fear that Hong Kong, long-viewed as a separate entity from mainland China, is losing its autonomy under Beijing’s encroaching authoritarianism. And despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement that the bill is now “dead”, pro-independence demonstrators continue to hold protests and demand that she resign from government.

In addition to the explosives, police said they also found anti-extradition bill banners and clothes sporting the logo of pro-independence group the “Hong Kong National Front” (HKNF). The 27-year-old detainee has also been confirmed as a member of the group. On Saturday afternoon, HKNF announced that they used the warehouse to store acoustic equipment and promotional material—although spokesperson Baggio Leung told Hong Kong Free Press he wasn’t able to confirm why explosives were found there.

Sunday’s protests unravelled into violence last night when dozens of men stormed Yuen Long MTR station and attacked both protesters and train passengers. By 2.30 AM, at least 45 people had been sent to hospital or sought treatment themselves, South China Morning Post reports. Some have suggested that the assailants—who were dressed similarly to pro-police demonstrators—were triad gangsters.

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