Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Hong Kong is staring into the abyss of domestic terrorism

  • At risk of radicalisation, vulnerable people are being encouraged to commit violent acts

In the early hours of July 1, several cans of petrol and a fuel canister were thrown in an apparent arson attack near Government House, the official residence of Hong Kong’s leader. Later in the day, at least six people were detained for carrying weapons that included knives, cutters and modified model guns.

Two days earlier, police arrested two men after tracking them for making alleged threats online to kill “well-known figures” and cause “bloodshed” in police stations. At their homes, officers found seven 1.5kg bags of a powder mixed with potassium nitrate, sulphur and a type of syrup used as precursors for explosives, as well as 580 gunpowder-filled cartridges and instructions for making guns.

Then, just after 10pm on July 1, came the knife attack on a police officer by a 50-year-old who then stabbed himself to death after being cornered by police near Causeway Bay’s Sogo department store, an area that has been described as the world’s busiest spot for the number of people that gather there. The attack left a 10cm-deep wound that pierced the officer’s lung.

The incident and apparent suicide just happened to be deadly. There were other people with violent intent. What is truly alarming is that the deceased assailant is now being celebrated as a martyr to the cause by some. But what cause?

People have laid white flowers and wreaths at the crime scene. Parents have brought children along to pay their respects. Online anti-government sites and chat groups are urging people to turn up at the man’s funeral and to observe seven days of mourning.

The message seems pretty clear: the more violent and deadly you turn, whether against police or the government, the more respected and celebrated you will become.

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has been prescient. At the height of the violence in the 2019 protests, he wrote in a Facebook post: “In the development of mass movements, what is the most dangerous time? When the lone wolf appears. When does a lone wolf appear? When the movement begins to disintegrate and rioters become abandoned pawns.

“They feel depressed and realise that they have been abandoned and betrayed. ‘Lone-wolf’ attacks become a stage [for performance] and strategic opportunism.”

Co-workers at Vitasoy said the dead suspect was a loner. Police said he lived with his parents. Anti-social and anti-government violence are being merged and will likely escalate. At risk of radicalisation, vulnerable people are being exploited to commit terrorism and other violent acts.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: City staring into abyss of domestic terrorism