A Taiwanese tourist was among three people in critical condition yesterday after a rush-hour arson attack on a Hong Kong metro train on Friday night, officials said, with one man with a history of mental illness arrested for the crime.
A total of 18 people were injured in the incident, which occurred at 7:15pm on Friday, while Hong Kong police said they had seized suspected liquid 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 state.
Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times
Except for the Taiwanese woman, all of the injured are residents of the territory.
“We visited a female tourist from Taiwan, her condition is still considered critical and is in intensive care,” Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung (張建宗) told reporters.
“To our knowledge, she has a friend in Hong Kong, and that friend has notified her family and that they are on their way to the city,” said Cheung, the territory’s No. 2 official.
He said that the woman, later identified as 38-year-old Chang Hsin-ju (張欣茹), was unable to communicate with others.
Chang was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where doctors said she suffered burns to 20 percent of her body, including her face, one hand and legs.
It would not be appropriate for her to be sent back to Taiwan for continued treatment until she can breathe on her own, they added.
Chang’s family members were yesterday afternoon scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong to visit her, and Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong officials visited her on Friday night after the incident and were standing by to provide assistance.
Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man (高永文) said the three victims in critical condition were on breathing apparatuses.
The suspect has a history of mental illness, Ko told reporters, adding: “In the long term, his condition was stable, but recently he was supposed to receive treatment, but he missed it.”
Video footage showed chaos on a platform of 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 TV Hong Kong also showed multiple people with burns being tended to by emergency personnel.
The TV station also reported that a 15-year-old high-school girl sustained burns to her legs.
“I heard loud cries, and the smell of the fumes didn’t smell like a normal fire — it had a chemical smell,” an eyewitness surnamed Chow (周) told reporters at the scene. “Once I inhaled it, it burned the throat.”
Police said they had arrested a 60-year-old man surnamed Cheung (張) for arson.
“The mental condition of the arrested person is one of [the] directions of [the] police’s investigation,” a government statement said yesterday.
Reports said the suspect was not on good terms with his family and had previously been arrested for minor crimes, such as gambling.
The South China Morning Post had earlier reported that the man tried to light a Molotov cocktail and said “burn you to death” before he took out the bottle.
Cable TV Hong Kong reported that the man had loudly said that some people had harmed his son and he needed to take revenge and that he had doused his trousers with thinner.
Local media said the suspect was among those in critical condition, but police would not confirm the reports.
Tsim Sha Tsui Station, which services a popular shopping and nightlife district, was evacuated following the incident, with trains skipping the station on Friday night.
It was reopened yesterday morning.
It was a rare incident in the Asian finance hub, where the transport network is known for its safety and efficiency.
In 2004, 14 people were injured on the metro when a man started a fire in another busy station during the morning rush hour.
Additional reporting by CNA
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