Hong Kong police mount large-scale anti-terror drill ahead of Ariana Grande concert
Officers practise dealing with armed terrorists setting off explosives and slashing audience members at Hong Kong Stadium
Terrorists setting off explosives at a concert and attacking audience members with weapons were among the various scenarios faced by Hong Kong police as more than 200 officers mounted an anti-terrorism drill at Hong Kong Stadium on Friday afternoon, a month ahead of US singer Ariana Grande’s much-anticipated performance.
In May, a suicide bomber targeted the 24-year-old pop star’s UK concert in Manchester, leaving 23 dead and 250 injured.
On Wednesday, a concert by American rock band Allah-Las was called off in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, following a tip-off from Spanish authorities about a possible plot targeting the venue, following the deadly terrorist attack in Barcelona.
Hong Kong police admitted that the anti-terror exercise had been prompted by the Manchester incident but denied that there was any intelligence suggesting the coming event at AsiaWorld-Expo had been targeted for attack. This is the first time that the force has mounted such a high-profile drill ahead a large performance.
John Tse Chun-chung, senior superintendent of the force’s public relations branch, stressed that the terrorism threat level remained “moderate”, but said police had to safeguard any international events in the city against attacks as the tactics of terrorists were unpredictable.
“Police will assess the risk before this kind of international event and take appropriate security measures in order to ensure it can be held in a safe and orderly manner,” Tse said ahead of the exercise.
The Counter Terrorism Response Unit and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau were among the squads put into action to gauge their readiness for a terrorist attack.
About 200 officers posing as audience members attended a “band performance” when an “explosive device” suddenly went off in the stands.
Some of the concert-goers rushed to the exits while others stayed behind to take photos and videos of the chaos. Several officers in the role of terrorists then initiated a second attack, slashing at those in the stands with knives. There were about eight audience fatalities.
Anti-terrorism officers patrolling outside rushed into the stadium and shot one terrorist dead, subduing two others.
Officers found explosives around the attackers’ waists and called for bomb disposal experts to disarm the devices.
Tse said members of the force had noted in recent emergency incidents that some members of public remained at the scene to take pictures or videos. He advised Hongkongers in such situations to stay in a safe place.
“[Staying behind] not only jeopardises your safety but may also slow down evacuation and our operations,” he continued
“They should run to a safer place for protection instead of taking photos and videos as no one can predict if the situation would escalate.”
During the May attack, a 22-year-old British Muslim of Libyan ancestry detonated explosives at the end of Grande’s concert in Manchester Arena, killing himself as well as 22 concert-goers and parents who were at the entrance waiting to pick up their children.
The pop star has since resumed her 2017 world tour and will perform in Hong Kong for the first time on September 21.
It is understood that anti-terrorism officers will be patrolling outside the venue on the day of the show.
AsiaWorld-Expo on Lantau Island said that since June, all visitors have been required to undergo metal detector checks and must wear security wristbands for crowd and contingency measures before entering the premise. The arena has a capacity of 14,000.
“All bags will be searched prior to [guests] entering the premise. Explosive detection dogs are deployed to further safeguard the premise,” a spokeswoman for the venue said.
She added that AsiaWorld-Expo would collaborate closely with event organisers and the relevant authorities to review and upgrade the security measures from time to time.