14 December 2010

Israeli causes panic in New Zealand

A ferryboat captain called police after spotting a man described as wearing "boxes" with "wires taped to his leg and forehead."

An Israeli tourist visiting New Zealand caused a minor panic on a New Zealand ferry on Sunday after the captain reported to police that a passenger was carrying a "suspicious article," NZTV reported.

The incident happened on Sunday as the Interislander ferry Kaitaki sailed across the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton. Some media in New Zealand even reported a hostage situation aboard the ferry, even though the passenger was cooperative with police, according to the report.

The man was described as wearing what appeared to be "boxes" with "wires taped" to his body. "One individuals had two boxes attached, one box taped to his leg and one box seemingly taped to his forehead," a transportation services spokesman was quoted as saying in the report.

Jewish websites described the man as having worn his tefillin (phylacteries) on the morning ferry voyage.

He was stopped by police at the ferry's destination after it finished crossing the Cook Strait and was released by the police without being charged.

Armed police reportedly forced the man and a companion to the floor after the ferry docked at Picton on South Island.

New Zealand race relations commissioner Joris de Bres said the police response was "unfortunate" and showed "an exaggerated fear of terrorism" in the country. "It's just a reminder we ought to pause and think before we jump to conclusions," he told the Dominion Post.

Kevin Ramshaw, of the ferry operator Kiwirail, told news agency NZPA that the captain had followed normal procedures by alerting police to a possible threat.

"One individual had two boxes attached, one box taped to his leg and one box seemingly taped to his forehead," he said. "There were what seemed to be wires attached to them," he added.

Mr Ramshaw said the 750 passengers on the ferry were "probably" not aware of the alert. "Staff felt the better thing to do was observe and stay away," he said.

Phylacteries - called tefillin in Hebrew - are two small boxes of black leather with straps attached to them.

Observant Jewish men place one box on their head and tie the other to their arm as part of their morning prayers.

In January a US Airways flight bound for Kentucky from New York was diverted to Philadelphia after a young Jewish man's phylacteries triggered a bomb scare.

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