Hong Kong police sound alarm over homemade explosives

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s much-maligned police force provided a rare behind-the-scenes look yesterday at its bomb disposal squad to show the potentially deadly destructive force of homemade explosives seized during months of protests.

In a demonstration for media cameras, the bomb squad set off a series of controlled explosions in a disused quarry overlooking the city’s high-rise skyline, blowing up a watermelon and shredding the front of a minivan.

In July, police announced the seizure of about 2kg of TATP, which has been used in terrorist attacks worldwide. Other recent seizures in Hong Kong involved far smaller amounts, just 1gm, of TATP, or tri-acetone tri-peroxide. “Obviously, I’m concerned that they are making TATP or are in possession of TATP,” said squad’s senior bomb disposal officer Alick McWhirter.

Just 1g of the unstable explosive, equivalent to the weight of a candy, could cause life-changing injuries, he said.

A demonstration blast of 1gm of high explosive at the quarry above the bomb squad’s fenced-off headquarters caused a loud bang. A blast involving 50g sent shrapnel flying from the shattered front of the minivan.

A van is damaged with TATP equivalent explosive by the bomb disposal squad during a demonstration for media in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AP

The squad used explosives with a destructive force equivalent to TATP but not TATP itself, because the substance is so dangerous to handle, susceptible to bumps, heat and friction. “Because I like having 10 fingers, I am not going to use TATP,” McWhirter said.

In October, police said a homemade, remote-controlled bomb intended to “kill or to harm” riot control officers was detonated as they deployed against protests. Causing a loud thud but no injuries, the small blast marked the first known use of an explosive device during the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and snowballed into an anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.

The bomb squad has also disposed of thousands of gasoline bombs prepared by protesters on university campuses.

McWhirter said, “99 per cent of the protesters in Hong Kong, from what I’ve seen, are peaceful.”

But he added, “There’s clearly, though, a small hard core who are dedicated towards violence.”

“The ones creating these explosives are a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage,” he said. “Petrol bombs, TATP, are not the normal in Hong Kong.”

Distrust goes both ways. Protesters accuse police of systematic abuses. The widespread use of police tear gas and thousands of often muscular arrests have infuriated many in Hong Kong.

A call for an independent investigation of police conduct features among protesters’ key demands.