Hong Kong police sound alarm over home-made explosives ahead of weekend protest

Michael Zhang

Hong Kong police’s explosives disposal squad gave a rare behind the scenes demonstration on Friday to showcase the potentially deadly force of home-made explosives, some of which have been seized during the unrest and protests seen in the city over the past six months. 

The demonstration, on a secluded mountain range overlooking the city, came days before a large-scale march protesting police violence in Hong Kong that is set to be held on Sunday by the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front. 

The march has received police approval, with appeals for calm and a commitment from police that they will refrain from using teargas or force as long as no bricks or petrol bombs are thrown by protesters.  

The demonstration began with the detonation of a 1-gram equivalent of tri-acetone tri-peroxide or TATP, a highly combustible substance easily ignited through friction and heat, on a watermelon, and moved up to exploding up 50 grams of a TATP equivalent on a van, which saw its insides blown to bits and windows completely shattered.

TATP is a home-made explosive compound, which has been used in terrorist attacks across the globe. In a warehouse raid in July towards the beginning of the protests, police made three arrests and found 2kg of TATP along with pro-Hong Kong independence flyers inside a warehouse north of the city. The case is currently ongoing in court.

Alick McWhirter, the squad’s senior bombs disposal officer, said he is concerned there are individuals making or in possession of TATP in the city.

“One gram of TATP, the size of a small candy, can cause life changing injuries,” said Mr McWhirter, who has been with the explosives disposal squad in Hong Kong for over 23 years.

“The ones creating these explosives are a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage. Ninety-nine per cent of the protesters in Hong Kong, from what I’ve seen, are peaceful. There is however, a small hardcore group that can be called rioters or anarchists." 

The explosives ordnance disposal bureau primarily takes care of undetonated bombs left behind from World War II, which are occasionally found in the city, however the police requested the squad's help when protesters made fake "bombs" with cardboard boxes attached to metal wires to distract police resources during protests. The team brought a bomb disposal robot in response to the request. In mid October, a suspected improvised explosive device was thrown near police vans in Mongkok district, which gave off a loud bang but caused no injuries.

Mr McWhirter added that the police have seized and have destroyed up to 10,000 petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails along with dangerous and corrosive chemicals from the Chinese University and Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, which saw intense violent clashes between protesters and police in recent weeks.

Protests in Hong Kong began over a now shelved extradition bill but have snowballed into a wider call for greater democratic reforms and an independent investigation into alleged police violence during the demonstrations.