By Joyce Woo
HONG KONG - Hong Kong's security chief denied Tuesday that the city was at serious risk of being attacked by Al-Qaeda during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as leaked US diplomatic cables warned.
A confidential memo released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks quoted Chinese intelligence sources in July 2008 as saying the former British colony was among a list of the terror network's potential targets.
Dan Piccuta, former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Beijing, said Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ordered terrorist attacks during the games, the cables leaked on Monday said.
But Hong Kong's security secretary Ambrose Lee told reporters on Tuesday there was no specific intelligence to suggest Hong Kong was a likely target. "In August 2008, we received some vague intelligence reports about how Al-Qaeda might attack China because of the Beijing Olympics, including Hong Kong," he said.
"We assessed the situation and felt that we didn't have accurate intelligence that suggested we were in immediate danger... or when Hong Kong will come under terrorist attacks," he added.
Local intelligence experts made a judgement call which turned out to be correct, Lee added.
"We receive a lot of intelligence reports every day," he said. "Intelligence experts use their professional knowledge to make their judgment, to assess the accuracy of the reports."
"Everyone in Hong Kong was very safe during the entire Olympic games."
James To, head of Hong Kong's Legislative Council security panel, lashed out at Lee's comments, saying the security chief had concealed his knowledge about the threat facing the southern Chinese city two years ago.
"He is not simply misleading the public, he is lying blatantly," the legislator told AFP. "He needs to apologise for that."
"He says the intelligence reports were vague. But the WikiLeaks (data) specifically said that Al-Qaeda terrorists were planning a possible attack on Hong Kong. Isn't this something very concrete and pursuable?"
Other potential targets mentioned in the cable included the US president and secretary of state, the British prime minister and foreign secretary, and the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.
The cable warned that "the terrorists are apparently bomb-making experts and may carry micro bomb-making materials in plastic products, jewellery, and crystal ornaments across the border with them."
WikiLeaks has released 250,000 US diplomatic cables, embarrassing a number of US allies and foes.