Aus, NZ govts assess Indian terror threat

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Australian and New Zealand sports organizations said on Wednesday their athletes would continue to compete in India.

Updated: February 17, 2010 09:32 IST
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Australian and New Zealand sports organizations said on Wednesday their athletes would continue to compete in India despite a purported threat by an al-Qaida-linked guerrilla group to target major upcoming sports events.

Officials said they would heed advice from their governments, international sports bodies and specialist security advisers over the level of threat associated with the forthcoming men's field hockey World Cup, Indian Premier League cricket tournament and Commonwealth Games.

The Asia Times Online Web site published a message reportedly from guerrilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri, whose Kashmir-based 313 Brigade is an operational arm of al-Qaida. The message warns of potential attacks on the Hockey World Cup, the IPL cricket tournament and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi later this year.

"We warn the international community not to send their people to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL and Commonwealth Games. Nor should their people visit India _ if they do, they will be responsible for the consequences," Asia Times Online quoted a translated message as saying.

The message was not verified, but Asia Times Online said it had interviewed the leader of the group in October.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and New Zealand's John Key said Wednesday their governments were working closely with Indian authorities to monitor the level of risk.

"Indian authorities have pledged to implement strong security procedures for all upcoming sporting events in India," Rudd said. "We, however, will be following this very, very closely."

Key said his government could not instruct New Zealanders not to compete in India but would offer the latest security advice.

"The decision whether to travel or not ultimately rests with the sporting team. We wouldn't stop a sporting team going but it's important we are able to give them the best information possible so that they can assess that," Key said.

The Australian and New Zealand field hockey organizations both said they would send teams to the men's World Cup, to be held in New Delhi from Feb. 28 to March 13.

Hockey Australia chief executive Mark Anderson said the Australian team would leave for India on Sunday, but individual players could withdraw if they had safety fears.

"So at any stage if they are not comfortable with the situation they can elect to opt out of the team, so there is no pressure on team members," Anderson said. "But at this stage there's no indication that anyone is going to exercise that option."

Hockey New Zealand said it would delay the scheduled departure of its team in response to the latest threat, but confirmed it was not withdrawing from the tournament.

Australian Sports Minister Kate Ellis said her government was yet to raise its security warning.

"The Australian security agencies are assessing those threats very closely and at this stage there has been no change to the level of security threat around traveling to India," Ellis said. "The moment that there is any change to those levels, our sporting organizations are notified straight away so that they can make the best assessments for their athletes."

Australian cricket vice captain Michael Clarke said he and other Australian players heading for the Indian Premier League in March had confidence in the security advice they were receiving. Clarke said Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association were closely monitoring developments.

"I don't know the exact detail on it, I only heard a few little bits about it this morning, but we're in pretty safe hands with Cricket Australia and the ACA making those sorts of decisions," Clarke said.

"They have the people in place to make those sorts of major decisions."

Perry Crosswhite, head of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, said Australia was committed to attending the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi later this year. He said threats would not stop the games.

"That threat does not affect our current position of going to the games," Crosswhite said. "We are committed to going. You can't be uncertain on that."

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