(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong police defused two homemade bombs at a local Catholic school, in a reminder of the potential for escalation in the restive financial center after a lull in protest violence.
Police dismantled two improvised explosive devices Monday evening at Wah Yan College in Wan Chai, Bomb Disposal Officer Alick McWhirter told a news briefing Monday. The radio-controlled bombs were complete, fully functional and ready to be activated by mobile phone, McWhirter said, adding that the bombs appeared intended “to kill and to maim people.”
“Given the quantities of the explosive and the fragmentation, had these devices been placed and had they functioned, they would have killed and injured large numbers of people,” McWhirter said. The two devices contained a total of about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of high explosives, fragmentation material and shrapnel.
On Tuesday, Police said they so far had no suspects and no further updates. The bombs were discovered on a portion of Wah Yan property that was outside the gates and accessible to the public, the school said in a statement.
The bomb scare comes after pro-democracy demonstrators held their largest march in months Sunday, which, although largely peaceful, signaled that Hong Kong’s unrest would likely continue into the new year. The former British colony has been gripped by more than six months of protests that have often featured pitched battles between riot cops and demonstrators hurling bricks and petrol bombs.
Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, mentioned the “highly destructive” explosive devices in a regular briefing Tuesday. She said it was “worrying” that 40% of the roughly 6,000 people arrested during the political turmoil have been students, and that teachers have been among them.
“When violent acts enter schools, it will undermine the safety of all students and their parents,” Lam said.
“I have asked all school principals to seriously follow up with all the teachers who have been arrested,” she added, noting that schools should “ensure all students stop participating in any unlawful activities and stay away from violence.”
Lam said she would head to Beijing on Saturday for annual meetings to update Chinese officials about the situation in Hong Kong. She sidestepped a question about an Apple Daily report that Chinese officials were considering replacing some of the less popular officials in her cabinet, telling reporters that reshuffling officials wasn’t her “immediate task.”
“My first priority now is really to restore law and order in Hong Kong, and to ensure Hong Kong could continue to move ahead,” Lam said, adding that “rumors and speculation” weren’t helpful.
While Lam has withdrawn extradition legislation that sparked the historically large protests in June, she reiterated her opposition Tuesday to meeting other protester demands, including restarting stalled electoral reforms. The movement has shown surprising endurance, with the opposition dealing the establishment one of its most decisive defeats in local council elections last month.
A poll released Tuesday showed that share of people expressing confidence in Lam’s leadership had slipped one percentage point from mid-November to a new low of 10%. The percentage of people expressing no confidence in Lam remained at 82%, according to the survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program survey.
The discovery of the bombs comes just days after Hong Kong police held a media event highlighting the risk of homemade explosives, including TATP, which has been used in militant attacks around the world. In October, police said a radio-controlled improvised explosive device was detonated near a police car, the first time one had been used during months of unrest. No injuries resulted from that incident.
Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent for the Hong Kong police’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, said the latest explosive devices were found Monday by a cleaner who called the police. Investigators were looking into whether the bombs had any connection to a handgun found earlier, Li said.
Wah Yan College thanked police in its statement and urged them to “find out the truth” regarding the explosives. McWhirter, the bomb disposal officers, said the devices included a primary high explosive designed as a detonator and booster, with a secondary high explosive based around ammonium nitrate.
“As far as we’re aware from our initial investigation, the explosives that were in the bombs were homemade,” he said. “You wouldn’t purchase these or be able to purchase these, you have to make the explosives.”
(Updates with school statement in fourth paragraph. A previous version of this story corrected the location of the school.)
--With assistance from Foster Wong, Jacob Gu and Stephen Tan.
To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Mc Nicholas in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at email@example.com
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