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|August 26, 2000||
Sidneysiders demand nuclear shutdownLincoln Feast in Auckland
The news set off shock waves in Sydney but Australian authorities said the risk of an attack was low, adding they believed there was "no credible threat" at this time to the reactor on the outskirts of the country's largest city.
"Relevant Australian authorities have made an assessment and have advised that the risk is low," a statement by federal Science Minister Nick Minchin's office said.
But Sydney residents near the reactor demanded the plant be immediately shut down as Atlanta did with a similar nuclear facility before the start of the 1996 Games.
In the biggest security scare to hit the Sept 15 to Oct 1 Games, New Zealand police said they had raided houses in the country's largest city Auckland in March and found evidence of a conspiracy to attack the reactor.
"That material included a map of Sydney highlighting a nuclear reactor and highlighting entrance and exit routes," detective superintendent Bill Bishop, New Zealand's National Crime manager told New Zealand Radio.
In Sydney, a New South Wales police spokesman said they had been briefed by New Zealand on the potential threat to the 1950s era Lucas Heights nuclear research reactor in the city's outer suburbs.
Sydney has a population of about 4.5 million which could swell by another million people during the games.
The New Zealand Herald newspaper said police stumbled on the possible Olympic plot when they raided the homes of some Afghan refugees during an investigation into a people smuggling racket to get illegal immigrants from Afghanistan into the country.
"The lounge of a Mt Albert (Auckland) home was converted into a virtual command centre, complete with conference table and maps," the newspaper reported.
Entries in a notebook outlined police security tactics for the Commonwealth Games held in Auckland in 1990.
"It is circumstantial and suspicious. If it was not for the Sydney Games, they (Australian authorities) would not be so tetchy. There is quite a bit of interest there," a senior detective told the newspaper.
Security forces in the United States, Canada and Britain were also looking into the possible plot, the newspaper said.
About 20 refugees from Afghanistan and possibly Iran were involved, the newspaper said.
New Zealand Police Minister George Hawkins said arrests were made during the raids but the people involved were charged with only minor offences.
"Obviously, with the proximity of the Olympic Games there was some cause for concern and so we've been working very closely with the Australians to keep them informed as to what is there, and the nature of what we found," New Zealand police spokesman John Nielsen told Reuters.
Department of Immigration statistics for the past two years show about 200 Afghanis had applications for refugee status approved and 17 were declined.
The New Zealand Herald speculated that the plot may have been hatched by sympathisers of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, suspected by the United States of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two U.S embassies in Africa that killed 220 people might.
Last week Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in a review of Olympic security, said bin Laden was "an example of the sort of people we clearly monitor as best we can."
"But we don't have any indication at this stage that there is any direct threat to the Olympics," Downer said.
Fears of a possible terrorist threat to the Sydney Games were raised in May when police arrested a man whose home near the Olympic Village was packed with explosives.
Australia's terrorist-free reputation goes on the line during the Olympics and security chiefs have prepared for everything from organised attacks by fundamentalist groups to rogue, Atlanta-style bombers.
Planning for the September Games, the largest security operation carried out in Australian peacetime history, takes as its starting point that the biggest international gathering of the new millennium is a prime target for terrorism.
Mail Sports Editor
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