A rush-hour commute in Hong Kong turned to panic Friday evening when a man ignited an incendiary device in a crowded subway train, filling the car with flames and smoke and injuring at least 17 people.
Photographs taken soon after passengers fled the burning subway car show a man, believed to have started the fire, standing on a platform as flames jumped from the tatters of his burning clothes. Other images show injured commuters, their faces wrapped in gauze, being treated by emergency workers.
The police said the man, whom they identified only as a 60-year-old with the surname Cheung, admitted to starting the blaze and was charged on suspicion of arson.
Violent crime is exceptionally rare in Hong Kong, home to one of the world’s largest subway systems. Annual ridership ranks just below that of New York, according to the Mass Transit Railway Corporation in Hong Kong.
“The suspect was believed to be speaking nonsense,” said Kwok Pak-chung, a police district commander. “What he said didn’t make a lot of sense.”
The South China Morning Post reported that passengers heard the man say that he would “burn you to death” before lighting the device, and local television stations reported that he was carrying a document identifying him as a psychiatric patient.
The police would not confirm those details, but fire officials said the blaze was caused by the ignition of a combustible material.
“At this stage, we’re certain that there’s no evidence suggesting it was terrorism or an attack targeting the mass transit system,” Mr. Kwok said.
Employees and commuters helped put out the flames after the train, traveling on the Tsuen Wan line, arrived at Tsim Sha Tsui station, where it was evacuated.
Of the 17 people hospitalized, two were in critical condition, five were in serious condition, nine were in stable condition and one was released, according to the Hospital Authority.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, expressed sympathy for the victims in a statement, and he asked the territory’s food and health secretary, Ko Wing-man, to visit the hospitalized passengers.
The last major arson attack on a subway train in Hong Kong occurred on Jan. 5, 2004, when a fire broke out as a train was arriving at the Admiralty station. Fourteen people were injured. That fire was set by a man using newspapers, a lighter and a bottle believed to contain gasoline.
Source: The New York Times