New anti-terror unit to patrol city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 October, 2009, 12:00am

Members of an elite new police counterterrorism unit will patrol some of Hong Kong's most prominent landmarks during the East Asian Games.

The unit, modelled on New York's Hercules team, will be ready when the Games start on December 5.

While some consulates involved with the Games have received briefings about the squad, police are handling the release of details delicately so as not to raise fears the risk of an attack has increased.

The officers will be armed with the same high-powered weaponry as the force's airport security unit, those familiar with the squad said.

They will also cover events such as the Rugby Sevens, diplomatic visits and conventions, as well as being on standby to respond to terror attacks. They will pay particular attention to buildings such as consulates and their residences, as well as prominent public and commercial buildings and infrastructure.

The new unit is designed to provide a quicker response to any terrorist incident than the special duties unit, which needs time to mobilise.

The risk of a terrorist attack has been 'moderate' for more than a year, according to the Security Bureau, despite a top al-Qaeda figure recently urging Uygurs in Xinjiang to launch a jihad, or holy war.

Senior intelligence operatives believe the fact Hong Kong has escaped any terrorist attack is due to luck rather than tight security.

'We have never had an attack, and rather than wait until we have an attack we've decided to take action now, which is refreshing,' one police officer said of the new unit.

Concerns have also increased as the number of illegal immigrants arriving in the city from overseas continues to increase. Police have described the trend as a 'serious concern', with dozens of South Asians and Africans being caught in recent weeks.

The Sunday Morning Post reported last week that illegal immigrants were using the Lau Fau Shan fishing village to cross between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Planning has been going on for more than a year and about 35 officers have been selected. The unit will eventually increase to 140. Officers are undertaking specialist training, as well as learning how to handle explosives and various types of weapons.