New Zealand PM plays down Israeli spy ring reports

15:14, July 20, 2011      

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The New Zealand's prime minister and police Wednesday gave assurances that police computers and information were secure after a newspaper reported that the Feb. 22 earthquake in Christchurch disrupted attempts by suspected Israeli secret service agents to "infiltrate" the system.

Prime Minister John Key denied a report in the Southland Times that one of the three Israeli nationals killed in the quake, Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi, 23, was carrying at least five passports.

Mizrahi was crushed under rubble in a van in the city, but his three Israeli companions in the vehicle left the country within 12 hours of his death.

The newspaper reported Wednesday that the police national computer had been under scrutiny in the aftermath of the earthquake, which killed at least 181 people, because of fears Israeli agents had loaded software into the system that would allow backdoor access to highly sensitive intelligence files.

It quoted an unnamed officer from New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) saying the SIS launched an "urgent investigation" of the "suspicious activities" of several groups of Israelis during and immediately after the earthquake.

An unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad was later confronted by armed New Zealand officers and removed from the sealed-off "red zone" of the central city, the paper reported.

Prime Minister John Key, currently visiting the United States, was asked repeatedly by a group of reporters to confirm details of the SIS investigation after the three Israelis were killed and other Israeli citizens fled the country.

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