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Japan raises terror alert to highest level

Japan raised its terror alert to its highest level on Friday, dispatching police to guard against a possible attack.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Japan intensified security at airports, nuclear plants and government facilities Friday as a precaution against a possible terror attack, a National Police Agency official said.

The government’s heightened alert sent a shiver through global financial markets, knocking the Japanese yen to 10-week lows against the dollar.

The official refused to discuss whether the government had new information about a possible terror strike, but said this was the highest level of preparedness since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Japan does not have clear levels of alert like in the United States.

During the heightened alert, riot police armed with automatic rifles will guard Tokyo and Kansai international airports and nuclear power and reprocessing facilities, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He would not disclose how many officers were added.

“We are going to beef up security at key facilities,” the official said, confirming reports by the Kyodo news service, national broadcaster NHK, and the Web site of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper.

The heightened security came after an apparent attempt to fire projectiles at Japan’s Defense Agency on Tuesday. Two loud blasts were heard near the agency; police later found two projectile launchers.

There were no injuries or damage, but local media reported that a leftist group opposed to Japan’s dispatch of troops on a humanitarian mission to Iraq had claimed responsibility.

Larger police forces were being mobilized and additional checkpoints set up around the prime minister’s residence, U.S. Embassy, military facilities and national and local assembly buildings, the National Police official said. Security was also increased at ports, railway stations and shopping malls.

Japan is sending 1,000 air, sea and ground forces for to Iraq — its largest military deployment since World War II. In coming months, about 500 ground troops are expected to deploy to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah to purify water and rebuild schools and roads.

Japan was among the first to back the war that ousted Saddam Hussein. Many Japanese worry that cooperating with U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq could make Japan a more likely target for terrorists.

In October and November of last year, Japan issued a series of travel advisories and alerts for citizens living abroad, following threats purportedly made by the al-Qaida terrorist network to attack U.S. allies.

News of Friday’s alert hurt the yen against the dollar. In New York, the dollar surged above 109 yen for the first time since Dec. 2, sharply higher than the 107.91 yen it traded late in Tokyo on Friday and above the 107.15 yen it was at late Thursday in New York.

Beginning in late December, police tightened security at hundreds of facilities nationwide during the new year holidays, and officers went on round-the-clock watch at train and subway stations and shipping docks. The precautions were later eased.