NEW: A tenth person was arrested in Hong Kong on charges of conspiring to manufacture explosives
Some in the group had links to a radical political group, police say
Student pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong calls the arrests a "farce"
Ten people, some with alleged ties to a radical political organization, have been arrested in Hong Kong, accused of conspiring to manufacture explosives, police in the Chinese territory say.
At a news conference Monday, police said they had arrested five men and four women, ranging in age from 21 to 34, whom they described as members of a “local syndicate.”
A tenth person, a 58-year-old man, was arrested Monday afternoon at Lo Wu, a border crossing between Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Police said their investigations showed that two men in the group were planning to test the powder of an explosive device. They raided a location in the territory’s remote Sai Kung district Sunday evening, where they arrested the pair, seized chemicals and detonated explosives.
Chemicals recovered during a subsequent house search were tested and found to be precursors of TATP, a highly volatile explosive thought to have been used in the 2005 London bombings and other terror attacks.
Officers also found the chemical formula for manufacturing smoke grenades, police said.
Police then swooped on others linked to the pair, and also seized air rifles, “V for Vendetta”-style face masks, political stickers and pamphlets, computers containing a sketch of an explosive device, and maps showing locations in Admiralty and Wan Chai – districts where the city’s government is based.
Police would not say whether the maps identified targets where the explosives were intended to be used, or whether authorities were working with China’s People’s Liberation Army, which also has a base in Admiralty.
“There are maps that show the locations of Admiralty and Wan Chai, and there are possibilities that this group of people might want to do something in this particular location,” said Au Chin-chau, chief superintendent of the police Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.
Police said some members of the group claimed to be members of a local radical organization. Police would not name the organization.
The arrests took place in an abandoned TV studio in Sai Kung. Now derelict and covered in graffiti, the studio is a popular place for photo shoots, teenager parties and paintball-like games with airsoft guns.
Student leader calls arrests a farce
News of the arrests came a day after thousands of pro-democracy protesters returned to Hong Kong streets, nine months after a demonstration that triggered 79 days of heated occupations in the semiautonomous Chinese city-state.
A prominent leader of those protests, Joshua Wong, 18, said that there was a lack of evidence and that the arrests were a “farce” to smear localists, a group of hardline pro-Hong Kong, anti-Mainland demonstrators.
“Even if you wanted to storm the Legislative Council, you wouldn’t make explosives to get in, it’s not reasonable,” he told CNN.
He also questioned why any suspects, who have yet to be named, would readily admit they were affiliated with a local radical group.
“No matter who did it, the government successfully vilifies the localists,” he said, adding that he did not identify as a localist.
Ronald Leung, a spokesman for a hardline localist group, repudiated the idea of making explosives. But he speculated that if police allegations were true, it could reflect the level of frustration developing for a minority in the pro-democracy camp.
“It’s sad, because it shows that the rule of the central and local governments has failed, and people have only become angrier,” he said. “It is only inevitable that people will find more and more radical ways of resistance.”
Political tension has ramped up in recent days as Hong Kong’s government prepares to table a Beijing-backed reform package ahead of Hong Kong’s 2017 elections.
The proposal, if approved, would allow Hong Kongers to cast votes for their next leader – if the candidates are first vetted by China.
But pro-democracy legislators, who have just enough votes to veto the bill, have sworn to do just that.
Wong told CNN on Monday that the chance of it passing was “zero.”
CNN’s Ivan Watson, Bex Wright, Vivian Kam and Agnes Chan contributed to this report.