More than a dozen people were injured and counter-terrorism police were called out after an unidentified man set himself alight on a Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train during the packed evening rush hour on Friday, local media reported.
Online video of the incident at Tsimshatsui MTR station showed bystanders beating out flames on the lower body of a man whose trousers had been burned away, while a fire burned in a nearby carriage.
Police sources told government broadcaster RTHK that the 60-year-old man is a resident of the former British colony who is believed to have set himself on fire using a "fuel-filled bottle" at around 7.00 p.m., at a time when many commuters were still traveling home from work.
The Counter Terrorism Response Unit was called to the scene, and police evacuated and sealed off the station. However, police later said the attack isn't being treated as a terrorist incident.
A number of people were carried out of the station on stretchers, while paramedics treated others for injuries at street level, where rows of ambulances and fire engines were parked.
Police cordoned off the section of Nathan Road near the station, warning bystanders of a "serious incident" and asking them to leave immediately, and preventing further trains from stopping at the station, local media reported.
Motive under investigation
Police spokesman Fok Lok-sang told reporters that the reason for the incident, which happened somewhere in the underseas tunnel running from Admiralty to Tsimshatsui station, are still under investigation.
"The seriously injured taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where they are in isolation," Fok said.
Of the 13 people hospitalized, two were in a critical condition, five were listed as in a serious condition, while four others were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, RTHK said.
The man who set fire to himself did so for "personal reasons," local police commander Kwok Pak-chung told reporters after the man, who has been identified only by his surname Cheung, was arrested.
Police are now evaluating his mental health, Kwok said, adding that the MTR operator was a target of the attack.
Attempted suicides among disgruntled citizens are increasingly common across the internal border in mainland China, where many pursue complaints against local officials for years or even decades with no result, often for forced eviction, mistreatment by officials or loss of their farmland.
But such protests have been relatively rare in Hong Kong. An 2004 arson attack on the MTR left 14 people with minor injuries.
Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.