The Hong Kong Police Force has tapped its elite Counter Terrorism Response Unit (CTRU) to serve as the core security squad for top mainland officials and other dignitaries who will attend the official celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, media reports say.
Chinese President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping is tipped to visit the special administrative region starting from the end of June to officiate at the ceremonies.
The CTRU, an ace yet once low-key police unit established in 2009, will also be in charge of the security arrangements for Indonesian President Joko Widodo during his two-day visit to the city this weekend.
The visit will serve as a “dress rehearsal” for the 170-strong CTRU ahead of its duties in securing more events and VIP arrivals in June and July.
Police believe that Widodo’s visit will require a higher level of protection, compared with previous visits by other heads of state.
During his visit, Widodo will meet with city officials and attend several functions, including a business luncheon at the Conrad Hotel in Admiralty on May 1.
For the first time, CTRU members will be on high alert, patrolling the city’s main streets and carrying heavy weaponry such as the German-made 9mm submachine gun Heckler & Koch MP5, widely used by SWAT units overseas, and the powerful Swiss-made rifle SIG Sauer SIG516.
Police sources say CTRU members will carry out their duties with “full load”, meaning they will openly carry their heavy firearms.
Overall, the terrorist threat level remains “moderate” in Hong Kong, although the city is not immune to attacks. It is therefore prudent to ensure proactive measures are in place, police sources said.
CTRU, led by police chief superintendent Barry Smith, has already initiated deterrent deployments primarily covering government complexes, consular premises, critical infrastructures and public transport facilities.
“During times of heightened threat, they will be additionally tasked to handle bomb threats, escort explosives or chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and provide support to other specialist units,” a police statement said.
After a rigorous three-phase appraisal, all CTRU members will have to go through a 10-week, highly intensive basic training course before entering the service.
The CTRU will be assisted by other key squads, including the paramilitary Special Duties Unit, also known as the “Flying Tigers”.
All other police units will be on call in case of any emergency in the run-up to the July 1 celebrations.
Since the start of the year, the CTRU has conducted at least four large-scale exercises in various places, including the airport, Kowloon MTR station, Sai Kung and Mong Kok.
The airport and Kowloon station drills simulated hostage, shootout and evacuation scenarios while the Sai Kung operation was to test the unit’s readiness to protect key infrastructure.
The Mong Kok exercises held this Wednesday in an urban art show setting saw over a hundred officers, including CTRU members, raid the venue to rescue hostages after negotiation with “terrorists” failed.
“Loaded” heavy firearms were used in mock gunbattles through the streets. Later the CTRU had to deal with a simulated chemical weapon attack.
Real events in which the CTRU was known to have participated included the police operation after an arson attack at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station in February, where it served as a standby unit, patrolling the South Korean consulate in Admiralty where a North Korean was said to have defected in July last year, and serving as security detail for former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Chinese President Hu Jintao during their visits to Hong Kong in previous years.
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