New Zealand police acknowledged Saturday that they believe they have thwarted a possible terrorist plot targeting the upcoming Olympic Summer Games in Sydney.
A copyright story in Saturday's New Zealand Herald said police "conducted a series of house raids in March and found evidence suggesting a conspiracy to attack Lucas Heights," a small nuclear reactor about 14 miles southwest of Sydney. The Mount Albert, New Zealand, home had been "converted into a virtual command center complete with conference table and maps." The maps highlighted access routes to the 1950s-era reactor. Entries in a notebook outlined police security tactics and chains of command typically used at large sporting events.
The alleged plot apparently was set to be carried out during next month's Games, the Auckland paper said. Police have made no arrests and have released no motive for the alleged plot but said the group may be loosely tied to well-known terrorist Osama bin Laden, a Saudi based in Afghanistan who is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list for attacks on American embassies in Africa.
"This kind of thing just underscores the importance of keeping public safety plans quiet," said Christopher Bellavita, executive director of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command.
The New South Wales Police Department, which is overseeing security measures for the Summer Games, was downplaying the threat to the Games, which begin Sept. 15.
"The New South Wales police is aware of an investigation that is being conducted by New Zealand police and, as per normal protocol, the New Zealand police have briefed their New South Wales counterparts," the agency said in a prepared statement. "The investigation by the authorities indicates there is no critical security threat."
The Lucas Heights facility includes a research reactor employed in the production of radioisotopes used in medical diagnoses and therapy, according to the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Center Web site. The reactor has a core about the size of a small washing machine. It is not used for generating electrical power or any military purpose. Since the reactor was built in 1958, there have been no reports of accidents at the site that might affect the health of the public.
In Sydney, the revelations led local residents and environmental groups to call for the Lucas Heights reactor to be shut down during the Summer Games, the Associated Press reported. A similar reactor was shut down during the 1996 Olympics.
Acts of terrorism indelibly marked the Olympic Games when, in September 1972 in Munich, Arab guerrillas attacked the Israeli delegation. Eleven Israelis, five guerrillas and a police officer were killed in the siege. Then in 1996, one woman was killed and more than 120 people were injured when a bomb exploded in Centennial Park during the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Salt Lake's Olympic venues are surrounded by facilities that contain nuclear and military components, which could be logical targets for terrorists, Utah Department of Public Safety Director Craig Dearden said. Planners with the command are very aware of that potential threat and are addressing that in their planning.
"We look at those scenarios and kind of look at the probability," he said. "Certainly the way the world is going to be in the next 533 days is going to make a lot of difference in whether we (step things up) or stick with the plan we come up with."
Bellavita said federal law enforcement agencies in the United States and agencies worldwide continually monitor threats with an eye toward preventing potential terrorists from carrying out such plans. But there is no denying that the Olympics provide a world stage for anyone wanting to make a statement, he said.
"Five billion people will be watching the Olympics on TV," he said. "In Munich, the Palestinian movement was pretty much unknown until after they took action. Because the whole world is at attention, (the Olympics provide) a focus point or a forum for anybody who wants attention."