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Death threats dog film star killer whale Keiko.

A death threat was received yesterday against the world's most famous killer whale, Keiko, as final preparations are made to return the movie star back to his native Icelandic waters.

Iceland's largest daily newspaper received a letter threatening the five- tonne star of the Free Willy movies who is due to arrive in Iceland's Westman Islands today from the United States. It was the fourth such threat since July.

"We will stop at nothing to kill the whale and it wouldn't be a bad thing if this happened during a live broadcast," said the letter which was posted in the capital Reykjavik.

Keiko's arrival in Iceland and his airlift into his new home, a large floating sea pen in a sheltered bay, will be televised internationally with over 200 journalists on hand to witness his release.

The threats began late in July when an anonymous letter sent to a national newspaper vowed to poison the water in the pen. Police at the time said they were taking the threat seriously.

News reports speculated it could be linked to the rivalry between two coastal towns to house Keiko - and attract Free Willy fans to see him in his natural environment.

Police in Eskifjordur, the east Iceland town that vied unsuccessfully with the Westman Islands to host Keiko, questioned a man about the earlier threats on Tuesday.

"He has been cleared of all suspicion and the investigation is back to square one," the newspaper said.

Security for Keiko's arrival is expected to be tight with the US airforce in charge of transporting Keiko from his present aquarium home in Newport, Oregon, to Heimaey, an island with a population of 4,600.

Every step of Keiko's return has been carefully orchestrated and tested before the big day, including a practice landing of a US Air Force C-17A Globemaster III on the small Westman Islands airstrip.

His release will be the climax of a four- year long campaign to free the whale who was caught in Icelandic waters as a baby and has spent all but two of his 20 years in captivity.

Keiko was to be lifted by crane yesterday afternoon and placed in a specially made water-filled box.

Trainers say it will be months before they can determine whether Keiko can ever be released into the open sea.

Keiko was the star attraction of a Mexico City amusement park until he shot to fame in the 1993 film Free Willy in which a boy befriends a killer whale in a theme park and helps him escape.
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Author:Scudder, Bernard
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 10, 1998
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