Hong Kong’s beleaguered government has failed to quell the city’s protracted protests now in their seventh month, but a senior official has now claimed some protesters had been trained by foreigners.

The claims were made in a question-and-answer session on Wednesday at the city’s legislature.

Secretary for Security John Lee told lawmakers that the government believed some black-clad rioters could have received professional training on how to stoke more unrest, likely from overseas, citing preliminary findings from a police probe.

“Each time when [rioters] rampaged along streets, it seemed that the mob had clear targets … and they acted as if they had a plot or screenplay,” said Lee, adding that the rioters were not novices, as seen when they mustered their ranks, massed makeshift weapons and sent messages and instructions out.

“It would be foolhardy to believe that their acts and violence were extempore, that the scale of their disruption and destruction could be carried out by merely a small bunch of people. Everyone could see how organized they were and the kind of propaganda they had.”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters brace themselves as police fire water cannons outside government headquarters on September 15, 2019. Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence
The exit of the Central MTR underground station after it was vandalized in September. Riot police chased groups of hardcore protesters who blocked roads, vandalised subway stations and set barricades on fire as the evening set in. Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace

Still, Lee stopped short of naming any specific organizations or individuals, but said the assessment was based on the police investigation.

Lee, however, assured the legislature that there was no intelligence suggesting local protesters had aligned themselves with overseas terrorist groups, when answering questions from pro-Beijing legislators about the “foreign terrorist elements” in the rioters’ hardened tactics as well as their weapons seized by police.

The senior official, who was also once a deputy chief of police, warned of the “emerging signs” of local terrorism with the spike of firearms, explosives and bomb ingredients related to the protests found by the police throughout the territory over the past six months.

Hong Kong’s security chief John Lee. Photo: Handout

Lee’s remarks echo the steady diet of allegations by the city’s pro-Beijing papers, including the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, which claim that local troublemakers and activists including Joshua Wong were “running dogs” of their US masters and were told to channel instructions and funds and instigate more youngsters to fan more tension.

Since Hong Kong plunged into protest chaos in June, police have arrested 6,943 suspects for various crimes ranging from vandalism, and rioting to arson, and only 338 have been released without any charges.

Lee also said 52,250 crimes had been reported between January and November, a 4.2% rise from the corresponding period of 2018, saying that the lingering unrest was to blame for a less safe Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing broadsheet Tai Kung Pao alleged in a report in August that US diplomats stationed in the city met with activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law to discuss plans to stir up trouble in the protest-hit city. In response, the US State Department said the meeting was nothing special and that only ‘thuggish regimes’ would release personal details of foreign diplomats.

The city’s pan-democratic bloc, however, has prodded the government to produce tangible proof of foreign forces aiding and abetting radicals. Lawmaker Claudia Mo, the bloc’s convener, dismissed Lee’s revelation as pure speculation based on his own prejudice, stressing she had never found any links with foreign extremist groups through her own contacts with protesters.

Read more: US NGOs, local tycoon funding HK protests: report

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