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Threat letter can't be discounted as hoax

News Release, 05:20, 10 March 2003

Last week’s threatening letter to the NZ Herald can’t be discounted as a hoax and needs to be taken seriously, Assistant Commissioner, Jon White, said today.

Mr White said that the overall security setting in New Zealand remained low but Police were asking the public to be vigilant and to report suspicious activity.

The letter to the New Zealand Herald on 4 March had some similar characteristics to the earlier letters sent to the US Embassy, the British and Australian High Commissions and the Herald, in late February.

"This suggests that it could have been written by the same author or someone known to the earlier authors."

The letter makes several threats. These include: targeting of UK, Australian and US interests in New Zealand, a chemical (cyanide) threat to house and motel water supplies through a tap, explosive capability, and the possible use of gas in a cinema. The letter suggests that actions may occur if Iraq is attacked. Reference is also made to a demonstration of capability in Auckland and Wellington on Friday 28 March at 12 Noon.

"This letter should be considered in the context of the world we now live in. The increasing number of letters of this type is a reflection of the changed environment since September 11 2001 and the current situation in Iraq," said Mr White.

"My advice to the public remains unchanged from that given early last year and in February of this year. Go about your normal business, be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to the Police."

The Assistant Commissioner said that all relevant government agencies have been working to assess the latest letter and that the assessment included consultation with overseas experts and enforcement agencies.

"Sector groups specifically identified in the latest letter have been notified of today’s announcement. We’ve also touched base with industries mentioned in the earlier correspondence. Follow up action will take place this week to provide advice and support and to answer any questions that may arise," said Mr White.

Public Health expert advice is that introducing cyanide into a motel or home water supply through a tap would be technically difficult. Effective dispersal of cyanide gas in public gathering venues would require a technical device.

"While it is a matter for individual judgement, I strongly believe that New Zealanders should continue with their normal every day activities such as visiting entertainment venues," said Mr White.

He urged people to report suspicious activities to the Police and to provide any information which might lead to the offender or offenders by contacting the freephone number 0800THREAT or emailing the confidential tip line on the police website at www.police.govt.nz

Information concerning cyanide poisoning, safe food handling practices, safe mail handling and general security was contained on the Police and Ministry of Health (www.moh.govt.nz) websites.

ENDS

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