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Manchester concert attack

Hong Kong police respond to global terror threat

With the surge in coverage of sensitive locations, officers show there is no reason for complacency despite the ‘moderate’ attack level

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 3:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 3:27am

Until 15 years ago, the Indonesian island holiday paradise of Bali seemed an unlikely place for a terrorist attack. Then it happened, at the cost of 202 lives in a nightclub bombing. That should not be forgotten when wondering why Hong Kong’s elite counterterrorism officers regard 600 local locations as sensitive when the city’s official overall terrorism threat level remains “moderate”.

Elite police keep watch for lone-wolf terrorists at Hong Kong airport

That threat level basically means there is no intelligence to suggest the city has been targeted. It should also be remembered, however, that while reassuring, there is no reason for complacency. A moderate threat level could also be seen to flag a “soft” target, at a time when violently radicalised Islamic State fighters are reintegrating into normal life after “service” in the Middle East.

A police source says the surge in coverage of sensitive locations such as consular premises, landmarks and transport hubs is a response to recent terrorist activities around the world, as attacks target crowds to maximise casualties and undermine a sense of security, while drawing attention to extremist ideology and aims.

Accordingly, officers from the Counter Terrorism Response Unit were deployed at Hong Kong Stadium when four English soccer teams contested the Premier League Asia Trophy in July. Their next comparable assignment will be on September 21 for the appearance of Ariana Grande, just four months after a suicide bomber targeted the US pop singer’s concert in Manchester, England, leaving 23 dead and 250 injured. After a number of terrorist outrages in Britain, that suicide mission would have overcome a much higher state of readiness and perceived risk of detection than would be expected in Hong Kong.

While the number of locations shortlisted as sensitive has tripled since the unit was established in 2009, the number of officers has more than quadrupled from 35 to 150.

Unprecedented security at upcoming Ariana Grande Hong Kong gig

They can be expected to turn out in force for the pop concert at Asia World Expo, where the memory of innocent fans who lost life and limb because they attended a concert by the same singer will be fresh in the mind.