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New Zealand on Heightened State of Alert for Terrorism


New Zealand is on a heightened state of alert, after an envelope containing cyanide was sent to a national newspaper. The envelope follows previous threats to contaminate water supplies and attack the interests of the United States and its war-time allies.

Two letters containing cyanide were received Friday by the New Zealand Herald newspaper in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. They followed another letter received earlier this month promising a "demonstration of [terror] capabilities" on this date, if the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq took place.

The newspaper reported that the earlier letter also threatened to poison drinking water, detonate explosives, release cyanide gas into a movie theater, and attack the interests in New Zealand of Britain, Australia and the United States. The letters were signed "September 11," the date of the terrorist attacks in America in 2001.

Investigators said that, up to now, none of the threats had proved to be genuine, but the presence of cyanide in Friday's two letters was being taken 'extremely seriously'.

Separately, a series of bomb hoaxes and threatening phone calls caused chaos in some areas. Security was being intensified at two major public events in Auckland, a concert by U.S. rock singer Bruce Springsteen, and a rugby match. A large movie theater in Wellington was evacuated. Extra security has been put in place at major reservoirs.

New Zealand's population and government have consistently voiced strong opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. Nearby Australia, by contrast, is a supporter of U.S. policy in Iraq, and has sent troops to support the invasion.

Police believe the same individual or group could be responsible for all the threats. Despite an investigation stretching back six weeks, however, the police admit they are struggling to identify the perpetrators. New Zealand has a small Muslim population with no history of militancy.

The New Zealand Herald, the recipient of the letters, suggested that the writer might be an amateur. The first letter said the writer possessed 25 kilograms of "weapons-grade cyanide." The paper pointed out that there is no such thing as weapons-grade cyanide.

New laws passed last year increased the penalties for terrorism, including aiding or supporting terrorists, to life in prison.

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