Hong Kong police 'must be ready to combat terrorism'

Every officer, not just special units, will need to be ready to deal with lone-wolf attackers, force counterterrorism chief says in new report

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 11:12am

Global terrorism has evolved and Hong Kong police need to change their approach to combat the phenomenon, the force's counterterrorism expert says.

All the city's more than 28,000 officers, regardless of rank, have a crucial part to play in protecting Hong Kong from a terrorist attack because of "unpredictable threats", especially from so-called "lone-wolf" operators, according to Superintendent Francis Shun Leung.

Leung, who heads the force's counterterrorism and internal security division, also suggested it needed to carry out more counterterrorism exercises around "critical infrastructure" such as the MTR and the airport.

Leung's views were published in a paper this month after he returned from a four-month stint as a visiting fellow at the Centre for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, part of the Brookings Institute think tank based in Washington.

Leung's paper, entitled "Standing up to Modern Terrorism", details how Hong Kong has ramped up its counterterrorism efforts in recent years by establishing new, specialised units alongside existing ones, such as the explosive ordinance disposal bureau, airport security, and the special duties unit, which is modelled on Britain's SAS.

However, he warned of overreliance on specialised units, which were "largely responsive in nature" and could lead to an "inevitable operational time gap".

Instead, he wrote, the rise of lone-wolf attackers meant counterterrorism was "every officer's responsibility" despite the difficulties of the task.

"It requires regular briefings and exercises for both highly trained specialists in the specialised units and the frontline beat officers who are likely to be the first responders," he wrote. "This is a time-consuming and ongoing process but is highly effective."

Two lone-wolf terror attacks made headlines recently: the Boston marathon bombings in April and a machete attack on an off-duty British soldier outside a military barracks in London in May.

Leung said modern societies were facing the "difficult dual challenge of maintaining their open systems while safeguarding lives and property and maintaining social tranquillity against more unpredictable threats".

"Hong Kong is not immune from the worldwide scourge of terrorism," he wrote, and although the city had not been the target of a terrorist attack, regular practice exercises were needed are to test the force's ability to fend off such attacks.

He said high-visibility patrols by the counterterrorism response unit, established in July 2009, at "sensitive locations" were key to discouraging terrorists from contemplating attacks.

Modern-day attacks on "soft targets" meant terrorists were causing mass casualties and "sewing a thread of fear into the fabric of society".