A group calling itself “September 11” sent terror threats to the British High Commission and American and Australian embassies in New Zealand warning it had 55lbs of cyanide to use against US interests if Iraq was attacked, police said today.
Although the group’s name contains a clear reference to the 2001 attacks in the US by al-Qaida, police spokesman John Neilson said authorities believe the threat came from within New Zealand.
“Certainly there has been no suggestion at this point of any links to any other organisation, including international terrorist groups,” he said.
Anti-terror police were hunting the author of the four identical letters, which also threatened the America’s Cup yacht race in Auckland.
One of the letters, intercepted by postal workers, contained cyanide crystals, said counter-terrorism police chief Assistant Commissioner Jon White.
Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed that a package “containing traces of cyanide” had been sent to the Wellington High Commission but did not reach the premises.
White said all four letters contained a white powder. Authorities have not identified that substance but have ruled out anthrax.
The letters, addressed to the ambassadors of the US, Australia and Britain and to an Auckland newspaper, said the group aimed “to challenge the actions of the great satan America and resist its imperialist ambitions in the Islamic world”.
Only the letter to the newspaper was delivered. The others were intercepted.
The letters, written in English littered with grammatical and spelling errors, said: “September 11 waits at the Americas Cup for instruction if Iraq is attacked by the host of satan all interests and there supporters will be attacked by September 11.”
“September has stockpiled 25 kilos weapon grade cyanide and will use those against those interests wherever they are,” they added.
White said there were similarities between the letters sent last Friday and one sent to the US embassy last year.
That letter, which contained enough cyanide to kill 20 people, had threatened the New Zealand Golf Open in which Tiger Woods played in January 2002. Its author has not been found.
Police are reviewing security at the America’s Cup, already high before the threat. They recommend people be careful about eating food served in public.
At the America’s Cup venue on Viaduct Harbour in central Auckland, restaurant and cafe operators removed open sugar bowls, salt and pepper shakers and self-service water jugs yesterday.
Racing for the cup remained stalled for a ninth straight day, this time because of choppy seas on the unpredictable Hauraki Gulf off Auckland which could affect spectator craft.
Alinghi of Switzerland has a 3-0 lead over two-time defending champion Team New Zealand in the best-of-nine series.
Both teams have agreed to try to sail tomorrow, which had been a scheduled day off.