Police say Hong Kong acid attacker remains at large

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An attacker who hurls bottles of acid from high-rise buildings on to shoppers in Hong Kong tourist spots remains at large, after police admitted they had arrested the wrong man following an attack on a market which injured 15 people.

Hong Kongers had breathed a sigh of relief after police arrested a suspect following a spate of acid attacks in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon and in the Causeway Bay shopping precinct. Since late 2008, there have been at least six acid attacks, leaving more than 100 people injured and spreading fear through the city of 7 million.

However, it now seems that the real culprit is still out there.

The latest attack came after the assailant dropped two bottles of sulphuric acid on to shoppers at the Temple Street night market on Saturday, injuring about 30 people, included nine tourists and a seven-year-old child. No one was seriously hurt at the popular tourist destination but some earlier victims have suffered burns to their faces and bodies.

Police arrested a 39-year-old man, but he was wanted on an unrelated white-collar crime case, and was probably hiding out on the roof to avoid police who were searching the area.

The authorities say they have no clues as to who the acid attacker might be, or why the attacks are taking place. All they know is that the attacker is able to flee the scene of the attacks easily amid the crowds in the densely populated area. The streets of Mong Kok are lined with old apartment buildings with walk-up stairways that are easily accessed from the street.

An attacker would have no problem getting high up to drop the bottles of corrosive liquid down on the unsuspecting throngs below. The acid used by the attacker is a cleaning agent, which is widely available.

The police have set up a 24-hour telephone hotline for information on the incidents, and installed a surveillance camera system where the attacks occurred. Thousands of police are scouring the city and they are offering a £24,000 reward for information about the attacks. Hong Kong's chief executive, Donald Tsang, has condemned the attacks.

Police are worried because thousands of people are due to visit the city in the coming weeks ahead of the Chinese New Year festival, which this year falls on 14 February. Tourists from mainland China and other parts of Asia come to Hong Kong to shop during the holiday season.