Hong Kong police on Saturday said 18 people were injured in an arson attack on a subway train during rush hour the previous night, with one man arrested for the crime. Three people were in critical condition after the incident occurred at 7:15 pm (local time) on Friday, while police said they had seized suspected liquid fire accelerants from the scene. Police have ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack and said the man acted alone with investigators looking into his mental condition. Video footage showed chaos on the platform of the packed Tsim Sha Tsui station, with a train carriage on fire and one man lying on the floor with his clothes ablaze as bystanders tried to help him. Images broadcast on Cable Television news also showed multiple people with burn injuries, as emergency personnel carried out rescue operations.
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“I heard loud cries, and the smell of the fumes didn’t smell like a normal fire — it had a chemical smell,” an eyewitness identified as Mr Chow told reporters at the scene. “Once I inhaled it, it burned the throat,” Chow said, adding that people were rushing out the station. Police said on Friday they arrested a 60-year-old man surnamed Cheung for arson. “The mental condition of the arrested person is one of (the) directions of (the) police’s investigation,” a government statement said on Saturday.
A police source told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the suspect was not on good terms with his family and had previously been arrested for minor crimes such as gambling. The SCMP had earlier reported that the man tried to light a Molotov cocktail and said “burn you to death” before he took out the bottle.
Local media said the suspect was also in critical condition, but police would not confirm the reports. The Tsim Sha Tsui station, which services a popular shopping and nightlife district, was evacuated following the incident with trains skipping the station last night. It was re-opened on Saturday morning.
The incident is a rare occurrence in Asia’s finance hub, where the transport network is known for its safety and efficiency. In 2004, 14 people were injured on the subway when a man started a fire in the city’s Admiralty station during the morning rush hour.