Motorcycle hitmen who carried out a "savage" knife attack that left one of Hong Kong's most influential journalists fighting for his life were still at large last night as the city reacted with shock, revulsion and anger.
Watch: Hong Kong ex-editor in press freedom row critical after attack
Kevin Lau Chun-to was ambushed as he got out of his car near a restaurant he frequents for breakfast shortly after 10.30am.
The attack, for which no motive has yet been established, was described by police sources as "a classic triad hit, which was designed to maim, not kill, to send a warning".
It was over in seconds after a pillion passenger got off the motorcycle and launched into Lau with a chopper. The journalist was able to call police on his mobile phone before he lost consciousness as the men sped off.
Last night the police released a grainy CCTV photo of the two suspects before the attack.
Their motorcycle was found in Sai Wan Ho Street, Shau Kei Wan, last night.
The attack has prompted a wave of local and international condemnation, including a strongly-worded statement from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and United States Consul General Clifford Hart.
Lau's recent removal as chief editor of Ming Pao as part of an editorial power struggle reignited concerns over press freedom. Last night, the 49-year-old was in a "critical condition" in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan after a life-saving operation on a 16cm-long knife wound to his back.
The injury was so deep it exposed his chest cavity and vital organs. He also suffered another cut to his back and two more on each leg, which doctors say could threaten his ability to walk.
The gangland-style attack - just 100 metres from the police marine headquarters in Sai Wan Ho - moved senior management at Ming Pao to offer a HK$1 million reward for information.
Lau and his family have been placed under police protection.
Speculation has grown that the attack was connected to Lau's journalistic work, including Ming Pao's recent articles about the business affairs of senior mainland figures.
Leung, who visited Lau in hospital yesterday afternoon, described the attack as "deliberate" and "ruthless", adding: "We strongly condemn this savage act. Hong Kong is a lawful society and we will not tolerate violence."
In an unusual move, US Consulate General Clifford Hart issued a statement last night that said: "We welcome the Hong Kong Government's condemnation of this vicious crime and commitment to conduct a thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice."
Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching applied to move a motion for the adjournment of the Legislative Council meeting on March 19 to discuss the attack and its ramifications.
Two police sources said the nature of the attack on Lau left little doubt that it was designed as a warning.
One said: "If they had wanted to kill him, they would have." The other added: "It was a classic triad hit. They went for the back and legs to warn him."
Last month, Lau was ousted as chief editor of Ming Pao, sparking a revolt in the newsroom by journalists who feared the paper's editorial independence might be undermined.
He is now the chief operating officer of MediaNet Resources, a subsidiary of the publication.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said the attack was "a serious provocation to the Hong Kong press and freedom of expression".
Police appealed for witnesses and information on 9255 4063 .