Tefillin sparks bomb scare in NZ
Religious Israeli tourist forced to ground by police after praying with ritual leather boxes on ferry
A religious Israeli tourist sparked a bomb scare on a New Zealand ferry when he strapped boxes to himself as part of a Jewish prayer ritual, reports said Monday.
Armed counter-terrorism police met the ferry at Picton, on the South Island, and forced the man and his travelling companion to the ground before taking them away for questioning, the Dominion Post newspaper reported.
It said the incident Sunday occurred when the man began carrying out a Jewish ritual where small leather boxes called tefillin, containing religious verses, are strapped to the arm and forehead.
Ferry operator Kiwirail said staff on the vessel, which had 750 passengers aboard, were concerned about a possible bomb threat and contacted police before it docked.
"One individual had two boxes attached, one box taped to his leg and one box seemingly taped to his forehead... there were what seemed to be wires attached to them," Kiwirail spokesman Kevin Ramshaw told national news agency NZPA.
New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said the armed 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.
Police confirmed a man was questioned after reports he was acting suspiciously on the ferry and later released.
'Suspicious' activity on Interislander ferry
The behaviour of an Israeli tourist on the Interislander ferry Kaitaki garnered police attention today.
The captain of the ferry was concerned about a "suspicious article" the passenger was carrying this morning and informed the police.
Police said they have spoken to the male person, who was co-operative. No further action was required.
Some media had earlier reported there was a hostage situation on board, however police ONE News spoke to said this was not the case.
The ship's captain had spotted boxes and what looked like wires taped to the man.
"One individual had two boxes attached, one box taped to his leg and one box seemingly taped to his forehead," Kiwirail spokesman Kevin Ramshaw told NZPA.
Jewish websites describe a traditional prayer ritual where a small black leather box called a "tefillin" containing verses from the bible is taped to the arm and forehead.
"These may well have been part of religious observance, but to people who are involved in the travel business, there were what seemed to be wires attached to them."
Ramshaw said the captain then followed normal procedure by notifying police of his suspicions, sparking an armed offenders' alert in Picton.
Crew then spent a nervous three hours closely observing the man as they sailed the Cook Strait, to avoid mass panic.
"Staff felt the better thing to do was observe and stay away."
Ramshaw said the 750 passengers aboard the ferry on the Wellington-Picton trip were "probably" not aware of the perceived threat.
Police spoke to the man and his three travelling companions upon arrival at Picton, before releasing them without charge.