SYDNEY (AP) — Dozens of schools around Australia have received threats over the past week in what police believe is a hoax being orchestrated overseas.
The automated telephone threats, which warn of bombings or shootings at the schools, are believed to be originating from another country and none represents any real danger, police said Wednesday. Still, the calls have been hugely disruptive, with several schools going into lockdown and others forcing thousands of students to evacuate. A few children in Queensland state had to be treated for heat-related illnesses after having to wait outside their schools in sweltering summer temperatures.
"These anonymous cowards will feel the full force of the law," Victorian Education Minister James Merlino told reporters. "These incidents have caused stress, absolute stress, to our school communities. As a parent, I can't imagine the angst the parents are going through upon hearing of the threats made to the schools at which their children go to."
Schools across the world — including the U.S., Europe and Japan — have received similar threats in recent months. But police in Australia have yet to determine whether the cases are linked.
Because the calls are automated, it's tough to know whether they are coming from an individual or a group, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said.
"Also, because of the international nature of this threat, that adds another layer of complexity to the investigation," he said. "So it may be some time before this investigation properly identifies, and we're able to arrest, these people."
The threats were received by schools in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and in the nation's capital, Canberra.
"There is no evidence these are anything other than hoaxes designed to cause unnecessary disruption and inconvenience," New South Wales police said in a statement. "The threats appear to come from overseas with no credible evidence they could be carried out here."
Merlino told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday that police were looking into whether the calls in Victoria came from an elite high school in Melbourne. The school principal said he was cooperating with authorities.