The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon. Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days. U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.
Posted: 12:58 am EDT Updated: 1:49 pm EDT message updated by US Embassy Niamey Follow @Diplopundit
The U.S. Embassy in Niamey released a Security Message on March 19 informing American citizens in Niger of the change in embassy school policy:
The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by officials of U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards.
The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by children of official U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards. (updated)
The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens in Niger to exercise caution, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase security awareness, and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the importance of taking precautions that can help you avoid being a target. Please follow these good personal security practices:
Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;
Reduce exposure to places where Westerners frequently congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores;
Know where you are going and have an exit plan in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;
Tell family member, co-workers, or neighbors where you’re going and when you intend to return;
Minimize your profile while in public;
Follow the instructions of local authorities;
Be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for personal safety concerns;
Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy number tel. (227) 20-72-26-61 and the after-hours emergency number, (227) 20-72-31-41.
Its central location and the vast, open Sahara and Sahel Deserts make the transit of terrorists, criminals, weapons, migrants, contraband, and illegal drugs possible.
Due to safety and security concerns, the Peace Corps ceased its operations in Niger in January 2011.
Embassy Travel Policy (applicable to all U.S. government executive branch travelers under Chief of Mission authority) requires that all travel north of Niamey and east of Zinder be accompanied by an armed security escort, with guards at hotels for overnight stays.
Excerpt from the Crime and Safety Report:
There has been an overall decrease in residential robberies in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence. While thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no residential guard and/or visible residential security measures, there have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence, including some diplomat and NGO residences. There was an incident at an Embassy residence by a violent individual; the Embassy guard on duty physically protected the residence from intrusion. In addition, there have been numerous cases of commercial and NGO office robberies.
Niger is rated high for terrorism. Niger has experienced terrorism firsthand, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) operations and clashes between the Nigerien military and al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other terrorist groups in the north. The January 2013 French military intervention in Mali against AQIM and its allies caused terrorist elements to threaten reprisals against countries — including Niger – that participated. In May 2013, AQIM-related forces led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar executed simultaneous suicide attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and dismounted gunmen on a Nigerien military camp in Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit.
Boko Haram (BH) has an increasing presence; the group is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked government forces, slaughtered civilians, and kidnapped foreigners. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced an increase in extremist rhetoric in the south (specifically Diffa), and Boko Haram members have been arrested in Niger.
According to the March 8 update at state.gov, Embassy Niamey is a 30% hardship differential post with zero COLA and zero danger pay.
On March 19, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako released a security message to American citizens residing in Mali related to the March 7 attacks:
The U.S. Embassy provides the following information and security guidance to U.S. citizens following the March 7 attacks at La Terrasse. Malian authorities report that the suspects involved in the attacks are still at-large. While there are no specific restrictions on public venues, official U.S. government personnel are advised to reduce exposure to places frequented by westerners until the hunt for suspects-at-large is concluded. As a result of the continuing investigation, Malian and international security forces have developed leads that may indicate potential future attacks in the capital. Therefore, the U.S. Embassy has reemphasized general security guidance provided earlier this week, and has informed official U.S. government personnel of the following additional measures:
The Embassy is in regular communication with the American International School of Bamako (AISB) regarding its security posture, including transport and physical security.
Official U.S. government personnel lodging in local hotels will no longer be concentrated into a few hotels.
Personal travel by official governmental personnel outside Bamako is prohibited in March and April, at which time the restriction will be reassessed.
Additional guidance will be distributed in coming days about possible movement restrictions for official U.S. government personnel around Bamako on the two upcoming holidays, March 26 and April 6.
Although the Embassy is not aware of any specific threat information at this time, Malian security forces continue to show a heavy presence around Bamako, including roadblocks and random police checkpoints, especially from dusk to dawn. U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, vary routes, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure their own safety, as should be standard operating procedure at all times. Ensure your personal communications devices are usable in a crisis, and fully employ any safety measures (locks, grills, alarms, etc.) at your residence.
Despite the significant successes of French offensive and counterterrorist operations, military operations continue to take place in the northern region of the country based on the persistent presence of extremist and militant factions and their capabilities to target Malian and western targets, including UN and French assets. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively static, there are continued concerns that Bamako remains a viable target for these groups. In January 2014, extremist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar reemphasized his pledge to target France and its allies in Mali in retaliation for Operation Serval. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED and PBIED); armed assaults; indirect fire and hand grenade attacks; and other attacks against foreign nationals, including kidnappings. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. Two French journalists were kidnapped then killed in November 2013 in the Kidal region.
Americans are currently warned against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the country, fluid political situations, and continuing threat of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable, security concerns and military operations continue throughout parts of the country. U.S. citizens who are in country are urged to exercise caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.
According to the state.gov update dated March 8, 2015, Embassy Bamako is a 10% COLA, 10% danger and 25% hardship differential post.
Today, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia announced the continued cancellation of consular services until Tuesday, March 17.
3/16/2015 Due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, consular services will continue to be cancelled at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran on Tuesday, March 17. A new security message will be sent out as soon as consular services return to normal. Telephone lines to the Consular sections will not be open during this time. In an emergency, please use the emergency contact numbers provided below.
The Justice Department announced on February 26, the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro and were arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams last week.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro yesterday and will be arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams later today.
“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “It is further alleged that they conspired to sell the weaponry with the understanding that it would be used to shoot down American aircraft and kill American officers. We once again laud the efforts of the DEA to stem the flow of lethal weapons that could be aimed at U.S. officers and to deter weapons traffickers who mean harm to the United States.”
According to the Indictment, which was unsealed in December 2014:
Since at least May 2014, Vintila has been a Romania-based weapons trafficker, Romagnoli has been a Europe-based weapons trafficker, who is able to procure fraudulent end-user certificates (EUCs) for military-grade weaponry, and Georgescu has been a Romania-based weapons broker. Between May and October 2014, Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by FARC against the United States. During a series of recorded telephone calls and in-person meetings, Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA (the CSs), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC. Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to provide these weapons to the CSs with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill officers and employees of the United States and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes. Romagnoli further agreed to provide fraudulent EUCs in order to make the illegal sale of weapons look legitimate.
During their recorded meetings, Vintila and Romagnoli provided the CSs with catalogues of military-grade weapons they were prepared to provide the FARC. Vintila gave the CSs a catalogue of weapons that included pistols, machine guns and other high-powered weaponry, and Romagnoli showed the CSs a catalogue that included automatic weapons and shoulder-fired rocket launchers. Romagnoli additionally showed one of the CSs a sample fraudulent EUC. Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu also discussed the logistics of receiving payment for the weapons from the CSs and delivering the weapons to the FARC.
The indictment charges Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu, with two separate terrorism offenses:
Count one charges all three defendants with conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees. If convicted of count one, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Count two charges all three defendants with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the FARC. If convicted of count two, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
The allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
On February 25, the U.S. Embassy in Amman issued a message to U.S. citizens in Jordan concerning a potential threat against high-end malls in the capital city:
The U.S. Embassy has received information of a potential threat against high-end malls in Amman. The threat is judged to be credible, although the possible timeframe and type of threat are unknown. The Government of Jordan has taken steps to increase security at these locations. U.S. Embassy employees and family members have been instructed to avoid these locations as a precaution in the coming days, and private U.S. citizens are advised to do the same.
Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook
Extremist groups have repeatedly expressed interest in attacking so-called soft targets, such as malls and restaurants, in Jordan. U.S. citizens should expect to see an increased security presence at such establishments throughout Jordan, and especially in Amman. We encourage U.S. citizens to cooperate with all vehicle and personal searches by police and private security. U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Jordan should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments.
The 2014 Crime and Safety Report issued by Diplomatic Security notes that the threat of terrorism remains a major concern as regional and transnational terrorist groups, as well as local extremists, have demonstrated the willingness and ability to mount attacks.
In late September 2012, the General Intelligence Department uncovered and foiled a major terrorist plot that targeted several Amman shopping centers and cafes, known to be frequented by diplomats and Westerners, and the U.S. Embassy. The highly sophisticated plot, orchestrated by members of al-Qai’da in Iraq (AQI) who had operated in Syria, was designed to take place in several phases — first targeting commercial locations to draw the attention of security forces and culminating in a complex attack on the Embassy involving vehicle borne explosive devices, suicide bombers, and mortars. The plot was disrupted prior to the group moving to the operational phase. Jordanian authorities arrested all 11 members (all Jordanian citizens) believed to be involved in the plot.
AQI has a storied past in Jordan, to include claiming responsibility for the November 2005 bombings of three international hotels in Amman that killed 60 people and the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley.
In August 2010, a roadside IED detonated near the passing vehicle of three State Department contractors in Sahab. The attack caused minor damage to the vehicle but resulted in no injuries.
The report also notes that due to cross border security concerns as a result of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. Embassy has issued a travel policy for all personnel under Chief of Mission authority, mandating specific restrictions and requirements for official travel to the Jordanian/Syrian border and locations in close proximity to the border, including the Za’atri refugee camp. Travel to these locations by Embassy personnel must be conducted in armored vehicles equipped with RSO monitored tracking devices. Additionally, prior to travel commencing, the Regional Security Office routinely consults with the Jordanian PSD to determine the suitability of the journey and, if necessary, to arrange for additional security measures.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria, as noted in the Department of State’s latest Worldwide Caution. Although the major cities are heavily policed, attacks are still possible. The majority of terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes occur in the mountainous areas to the east of Algiers (Kabylie region and eastern wilayas) and in the expansive Saharan desert regions of the south and southeast. In September, the ISIL-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) abducted and beheaded a French citizen, in the Kabylie region.
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. Embassy personnel assigned to Algiers sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under security restrictions. The U.S. Department of State permits U.S. diplomats in Algeria to be accompanied only by adult family members, and children under age 12. Embassy travel restrictions limit and occasionally prevent the movement of U.S. Embassy officials and the provision of consular services in certain areas of the country. Likewise, the Government of Algeria requires U.S. Embassy personnel to seek permission to travel outside the wilaya of Algiers and provides police escorts. Travel to the military zone established around the Hassi Messaoud oil center requires Government of Algeria authorization.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi continue to provide consular services for all U.S. citizens in Pakistan. The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar no longer offers consular services and the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remains temporarily closed for public services.
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.
U.S. government personnel travel within Pakistan is often restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles. Embassy staff is permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.
U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel. U.S. officials are not authorized to use public transportation.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. There have been recent attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates, an attack on Shi’ite Muslims outside a community center in the Eastern Province on November 3, 2014, and continuing reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners in the Kingdom.
Security threats are increasing and terrorist groups, some affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom.
On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). The U.S. Embassy has instructed U.S. government personnel and their families to avoid all travel to Al Hasa Governorate, and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.
In related news — yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued an Emergency Message concerning threats to American citizens in what is still a war zone.
“As of late February 2015, militants planned to conduct multiple imminent attacks against an unspecified target or targets in Kabul City, Afghanistan. There was no further information regarding the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the first overseas destination of the new defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter. According to the NYT, he arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend and opened up the possibility of “slowing the withdrawal of the last American troops in the country to help keep the Taliban at bay.” Most of the remaining troops in the country are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2016.
No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.
A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language” which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.
The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation. The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”
Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).
Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)
An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925(b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it. [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].
In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.
In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”
We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:
Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.
The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.
Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:
DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)
Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous.
The State Department suspended embassy operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and American staff were relocated out of the country according to the February 11, 2015 Travel Warning released late tonight. Embassy Sanaa had previously announced the suspension of all consular services until further notice on February 8.
On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff were relocated out of the country. All consular services, routine and/or emergency, have been suspended until further notice. The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on September 25, 2014.
The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain extremely concerning, and there are no plans for a U.S. government-sponsored evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage U.S. citizens wishing to depart to do so via commercial transportation options. If you wish to depart Yemen, you should make plans to depart as soon as possible. Airports may experience unexpected closures with little to no warning and access to the airport also may be cut off if the security situation deteriorates. All U.S. citizens in need of emergency assistance should contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in a neighboring country. For U.S. citizen inquiries, you may send an email to YEMENEMERGENCYUSC@state.gov.
The announcement followed a whirl of rumors surrounding the suspension of operations at Embassy Sana’a in less than 24 hours.
BREAKING: US officials: US Embassy in Yemen to suspend operations amid security concerns.