August 26, 2000


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No arrests in nuclear plot

Brian Williams

Aussie protestors demand shut down of reactorNew Zealand police said on Saturday they had uncovered a possible plot to blow up a nuclear reactor in Sydney during next month's Olympic Games but officials in Australia and New Zealand quickly downplayed the seriousness of the threat.

News of the possible plot set off shock waves in Sydney, Australia's largest city, but authorities said the risk of such an attack was low.

The officials said they believed there was "no credible threat" at this time to the research reactor, some 25 km (16 miles) from the main Olympic stadium on the outskirts of Sydney.

The New Zealand government and police stressed there had been no arrests linked to a possible plot by Afghan refugees, the biggest security scare to hit the Games.

Residents near the Lucas Heights research reactor urged that it should be shut immediately, but Australian officials rejected the demand.

"Relevant Australian authorities have made an assessment and have advised that the risk is low," a statement by Australian

Science Minister Nick Minchin's office said.

Sydney has a population of about 4.5 million which could swell by another million people during the Games, which run from Sept 15 to Oct 1.

The Lucas Heights reactorNew Zealand police said they had found evidence of a possible plan to attack the reactor during raids on several houses in the country's largest city Auckland in March.

"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.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper said police had stumbled onto the possible 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," 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 like passport and immigration offences.

"The police have not arrested anybody for any terrorist act or any potential terrorist act," New Zealand deputy prime minister Jim Anderton said.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff said when the Games were only a few weeks ago "you err on the side of caution."

"There is nothing...that suggests there is a threat on the ground other than somebody had marked the reactor and access to it in a notebook."

But Sydney residents were not placated and said the city should follow the example of Atlanta which shut a similar plant during its 1996 Games.

"Our federal government expects Australians to put up with a huge terrorist threat right on our doorstop, because they don't want people to know it (the reactor) is there," said local council woman Genevieve Rankin.

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."

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 attacks by groups to rogue, Atlanta-style bombers.

Australia is mounting its largest peacetime security operation for the Games, fearing the biggest global gathering of the new millennium will be a prime target for terrorists.

Related stories:

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