TWO Hong Kong men, believed to be triad members hired as hitmen, have been arrested for carrying out last month's cleaver attack on a former newspaper editor - a case that prompted fears of an assault on the city's press freedom.
Another seven suspected accomplices have also been nabbed for "varying degrees of participation" before and after the ambush on Mr Kevin Lau.
Further arrests are possible, said Hong Kong's Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai Hung.
Who hired them and why remain unclear for now.
But evidence so far does not support the popular speculation that the attack on Mr Lau was due to his work as editor-in-chief of Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao Daily, said Mr Tsang.
"We cannot rule out any possibility but, right now, with the evidence we have in hand, we can only say it's not directly linked to his journalistic work."
Both suspected assailants, aged 37, were arrested in Dongguan in Guangdong province, where they fled to on the day of the attack.
On Feb 26, Mr Lau was on his way to his usual breakfast haunt in Sai Wan Ho when a man leapt off a motorcycle and hacked at him six times with a cleaver, before fleeing. It has been described as a "classic triad-style hit".
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Tsang said Hong Kong investigators had identified the two suspects and sought help from the mainland security authorities. While there is no extradition treaty between Hong Kong and China, he said, discussions are under way to bring the pair back to the city.
Security and risk consultant Steve Vickers, a former head of the Hong Kong police criminal intelligence bureau, said the hurdle should not be too much of an issue given that the men are Hong Kongers and not mainland Chinese residents. Both are from the same triad, said Mr Tsang.
The seven suspected accomplices, all men, were arrested in Hong Kong on Wednesday. They are aged between 30 and 57. Some are from the triads.
The attack on Mr Lau - which came shortly after he was replaced at the helm of Ming Pao - agitated talk of a clampdown on the city's freewheeling press.
Speculation has swirled over his newspaper's investigative reports on the overseas assets of Beijing's high-ranking officials. There were also suggestions the paper could have offended local triads. Another possibility raised is that there was a personal feud.
At the press conference, Mr Tsang, pressed on whether the police had information about whether the men had received money, and if it was from mainland China, said the money trail is "an important direction" in their probe. He added: "We cannot say anything based on imagination."
On Wednesday, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying said: "There is speculation that the case is related to freedom of speech, which we have always considered a core value of Hong Kong.
"Now, the attackers have been arrested. We believe everyone should have faith in Hong Kong police - as I always do, and believe they will handle the further investigation well."
Mr Lau remains hospitalised but is in stable condition. He is expected to be discharged late this month at the earliest, said his wife Vivien Chan, followed by three to six months of rehabilitation.
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