US Embassy Dhaka Restricts Movement of USG Staff/Families in Bangladesh

Posted: 1:39 am EDT





Excerpt from the Security Message issued by Embassy Dhaka on September 28:

There is reliable new information to suggest that militants may be planning to target Australian interests in Bangladesh.  Such attacks, should they occur, could likely affect other foreigners, including U.S. citizens.

In light of the increased threat, U.S. citizens should consider limiting their attendance at events where foreigners may gather, including events at international hotels.  U.S. citizens should maintain a high level of vigilance and situational awareness and should exercise caution in public places including restaurants, hotels and other places frequented by foreigners.

The U.S. government continues to receive information that terrorist groups in South Asia may also be planning attacks in the region, possibly against U.S. government facilities, U.S. citizens, or U.S. interests.  Terrorists have demonstrated their willingness and ability to attack locations where U.S. citizens or Westerners are known to congregate or visit.

Until further notice, all official U.S. government personnel are prohibited from attending large gatherings in Bangladesh, including events at international hotels, unless they have obtained Regional Security Office permission.

The Embassy advises U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Bangladesh to remain vigilant regarding their personal security and to be alert to local security developments.

A follow-up message notes that following the fatal attack on an Italian national in Gulshan September 28, the U.S. Embassy instructed its personnel to shelter in place until Tuesday morning September 29. American International School in Dhaka (AISD) will be closed on September 29. The Embassy will be open on September 29, including providing consular services. U.S. government personnel and their families will be limiting their movements.


Related posts:

Security Message on Terrorist Threat to U.S. Interests in South Africa

Posted: 1:08 pm EDT


The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria issued a security message today alerting American citizens of a terrorist threat to United States interests in South Africa. Note that the message provides the contact information for the U.S. Consulates General in Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Durban for American citizens requiring assistance.  The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria does not have a consular section and does not provide consular services.  The U.S. Mission to South Africa is currently headed by Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, a political appointee who previously served as the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee.





The US Mission in South Africa is the second largest in the Bureau of African Affairs in total staff, and the third largest in terms of Department staffing, behind Nigeria and Kenya. With consulates general in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, it is apparently, the only mission in Africa with three constituent posts. Twenty-eight offices from 12 independent agencies maintain a presence at the mission, the largest being the Department, USAID, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2011 OIG report recommended that USCG Durban “be significantly downsized or closed.”

Diplomatic Security’s 2015 Crime and Safety Report rates South Africa as “critical” in crime and “medium” in terrorism:

South Africa serves as an important transit and facilitation point for global extremists. Though there has been no indication that operational cells are present, a nexus for recruiting, funding, and safe haven for international terrorists does exist.

The last significant domestic terror campaign occurred in the Western Cape. The Western Cape-based group “People against Gangsters and Drugs” (PAGAD) conducted an urban terror campaign of bombings, assassinations, and vigilante murders from 1997 to November 2001. These activities targeted government facilities and personnel, moderate Muslims identified as threats to the radical Islamic movement, and Western-themed businesses (Planet Hollywood, Hooters, and Hard Rock Cafe) seen by PAGAD as symbols of the anti-Islamic West. The successful investigation and subsequent prosecution of PAGAD members by the government was credited with the suspension of further violence. No significant anti-Western attacks have occurred since 2001.

The smallest post in the mission is USCG Durban. It is located in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, home to sub-Saharan Africa’s largest container port (Durban) and commodity port (Richards Bay), making the province one of the prime commercial centers on the continent. According to the latest crime/safety report, KZN is also a frequent host to ANC political rallies and large gatherings that sometimes disrupt the city. Most protests, marches, and rallies pass in front of the building housing the U.S. Consulate General and end across the street in front of Durban’s City Hall, preventing Consulate staff and visitors from accessing or departing from the building.

The report also notes that while the SA police forces are well intentioned, they have limited effectiveness due to a lack of equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies.

As an side, this is one more example where post’s social media arms are not integrated into a whole-mission approach. Its Facebook page features a job vacancy and “20 years after the Beijing Declaration.”  On Twitter, @USEmbassySA makes no mention of the security message and has the following instead:

We’re going to boldly bet that the social media platforms are run by Public Affairs and the security message is run by the Consular Section. And they have not bumped into each other yet.


US Embassy Paris: Three Americans in France, “Don’t just stand by and watch.”

Posted: 5.25 pm EDT


Via France 24:

The three Americans, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler who overpowered a heavily-armed gunman in a train, and have been hailed as “heroes” had a press conference at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris over the weekend.

The alleged attacker, 25-year-old Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani, boarded a high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris on Friday carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, an automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.

“The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. I want that lesson to be learned. In times of terror like that to please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”






Security Incident Prompts Closure of USCG Istanbul, Will Reopen to Public on August 11

Posted: 2:52 pm EDT


Following the reported gunfire at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul today, the U.S. Ambassy in Ankara released the following statement:

The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul was attacked by gunfire early this morning, August 10.  The Consulate was closed at the time and nobody was injured. The Consulate plans to reopen on August 11 to resume normal business.  U.S. Embassy Ankara remains open.  The Embassy is in contact with Turkish law enforcement and security officials who are investigating this incident.

Media reports say that a radical Turkish Marxist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP-C), known in the 1990s as Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left) has claimed responsibility for the attack.  The same group claimed responsibility for a 2013 suicide attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, which killed Turkish security guard, Mustafa Akarsu (see US Embassy Turkey: Suicide Bomber Kills Local Guard Mustafa Akarsu, Wounds One).

The State Department designated DHKP/C a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, and reviewed and maintained this designation on July 24, 2013.  Its Rewards for Justice program offered rewards on April 2, 2014 for information on three key leaders of this terrorist organization, two of them women. (in Turkish: Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi, or DHKP/C). The Department authorized rewards of up to $3 million each for information leading to the location of Musa Asoglu, Zerrin Sari, and Seher Demir Sen.







In related news, yesterday, six F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing, accompanied by approximately 300 personnel and cargo deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. This deployment coincides with Turkey’s decision to host U.S. aircraft to conduct counter-ISIL operations.


The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation

Posted: 12:22  pm EDT


We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day).  The following CRS report dated July 30, 2015  outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes one bill currently before Congress, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015 (S. 868) on the bid to compensate the hostages.

Excerpted from CRS report via Secrecy News:

Even today, after the passage of more than three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days or their survivors continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.

Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief.
The Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015, S. 868, a bill similar to S. 559 (113th Cong.), was introduced in the Senate at the end of March and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Like its predecessor bill, S. 868 would establish the American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund in the U.S. Treasury to be funded through a 30% surcharge on penalties, fines, and settlements collected from violators of U.S. sanctions prohibiting economic activity with Iran. The 2015 bill, however, would permit payments from the fund to be administered by the plaintiffs’ representative and principal agent in Roeder I, under the supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. The surcharge would apply to sanctions administered by Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, or the Department of Energy. Surcharges would be required to be paid to the Secretary of the Treasury without regard to whether the fine or penalty is paid directly to the federal agency that imposed it or it is deemed satisfied by a payment to another federal agency.

The purpose of the fund would be to make payments to the former hostages and their family members who are members of the proposed class in Roeder I, as well as to settle their claims against Iran. The proposed class in Roeder I appears to consist of “Representatives, administrators and/or executors of the estates of all diplomatic and military personnel and the civilian support staff who were working at the United States Embassy in Iran during November 1979 and were seized from the United States Embassy grounds, or the Iranian Foreign ministry, and held hostage from 1979 to 1981.”

Accordingly, it is unclear whether all spouses and children of the former hostages qualify for payments from the fund.

Payments would be made in the following amounts and according to this order of priority:

(A) To each living former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per former hostage].

(B) To the estate of each deceased former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per estate of a former hostage].

(C) To each spouse and child of a former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1) if the spouse or child is identified as a member of that proposed class, $5,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$2.22 million per qualifying spouse or child of a former hostage].

The bill would not appear to provide compensation for former hostages who were released from captivity prior to 1981.

Under the bill, once a class member consents and receives payments from the fund, the recipient would be barred from bringing a lawsuit against Iran related to the hostage crisis. Once all payments are distributed according to the above plan, all such claims against Iran would be deemed waived and released.

Read in ful here: CRS R43210: The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation.


Required Reading on Hostage Cases: And when not/not to write, “Please enjoy your day!”

Posted: 3:39 am EDT

Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of eight books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which spent eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.  Last month, he wrote a piece about the civilian effort to save the five ISIS hostages.


The State Department appointed Carrie Greene, in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, to be a liaison with the families. She seemed impatient with their independent investigations. “You really shouldn’t be talking to these terrorists,” she warned. “It’s against the law.” Viva Hardigg responded, “Excuse me, Carrie, but we are well acquainted with U.S. laws, and if someone you love is being held by terrorists, with whom else should you talk?” Greene ended her e-mails with “Please enjoy your day!”

When Peter Kassig was kidnapped, his parents got a call from a State Department official. Paula recalls, “She basically said, ‘We know your son has been taken in Syria. We don’t have an embassy in Syria. We don’t have people on the ground in Syria. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with them, so we can’t do anything to help you.’ ” In May, 2014, the families had a joint meeting with Daniel Rubinstein, a special envoy appointed to handle affairs in Syria. “He was nice, but when we asked how to contact him we were told not to e-mail or phone him,” Diane Foley says. In order to talk with him on the phone, the families had to travel to a local F.B.I. office, so an agent could dial Rubinstein’s number for them.



Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies

Posted: 12:28  am EDT

Via GAO:

Terrorism and violent extremism continue to pose a global threat, and combating them remains a top priority for the U.S. government. State leads and coordinates U.S. efforts to counter terrorism abroad. State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism was elevated to bureau status in 2012 with the aim of enhancing State’s ability to counter violent extremism, build partner counterterrorism capacity, and improve coordination. GAO was asked to review the effects of this change and the new bureau’s efforts.

While the bureau has undertaken efforts to assess its progress, it has not yet evaluated its priority Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program and has not established time frames for addressing recommendations from program evaluations. Specifically, the bureau established indicators and targets for its foreign assistance–related goals and reported results achieved toward each indicator. The bureau has also completed four evaluations covering three of its six programs that resulted in 60 recommendations. The bureau reported having implemented about half of the recommendations (28 of 60) as of June 2015 but has not established time frames for addressing the remaining recommendations. Without specific time frames, it will be difficult for the bureau to ensure timely implementation of programmatic improvements. In addition, despite identifying its CVE program as a priority and acknowledging the benefit of evaluating it, the bureau has postponed evaluating it each fiscal year since 2012.

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The bureau’s number of authorized FTEs grew from 66 in fiscal year 2011 to 96 in fiscal year 2015, which is an increase of more than 45 percent. Figure 6 shows the number of authorized FTEs within the bureau for fiscal years 2011 to 2015, along with the number of FTE positions that were filled. While the bureau’s current authorized level of FTEs for fiscal year 2015 is 96 positions, it had 22 vacancies as of October 31, 2014. The percentage of vacancies in the bureau has ranged from 17 percent to 23 percent in fiscal years 2011 to 2015. According to the CT Bureau, these vacancies have included both staff-level and management positions.

In addition to the authorized FTEs, the CT Bureau also has non-FTE positions, which include contractors; interns; fellows; detailees; and “When Actually Employed,” the designation applied to retired State employees rehired under temporary part-time appointments. For fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, the CT Bureau had 92, 78, and 69 such positions, in addition to its authorized FTEs, according to the CT Bureau.


Related item:

State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations | GAO-15-684 | pdf


Terrorist Attacks Rock France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three Countries. Three Continents. All Soft Targets.

Posted: 4:41  pm EDT


Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait today. At least 37 people including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisia, one person was reportedly decapitated in France at a US-owned factory, and at least 25 people were killed at a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kuwait. Three countries, three continents and  all soft targets.



The US Embassy Paris released the following security message on 

The U.S. Embassy in Paris informs U.S. citizens that a terrorist attack took place at approximately 10 AM today at a U.S.-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Isere, France, southeast of Lyon, at a large industrial park. One person was killed and two others were reported injured. None of the deceased or injured was a U.S. citizen. The motivation for the attack is unknown, and one suspect is in French government custody.   The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Following the January 2015 terrorist attacks, the Government of France raised the “Vigipirate” level and continues to evaluate its security posture on a regular basis. Up-to-date information is available on the “Vigipirate” website in French.


Under this system, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe.


U.S. citizens in France are encouraged to remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places, or any other suspicious activities, to French law enforcement authorities. French authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.



The  US Embassy in Tunis released the following  message:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia around the Kantaoui area at the Imperial Riu Marhaba and Soviva hotels in Sousse.   The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Kantaoui area and surrounding vicinity. The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants.

U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur.  Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security.

Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.  In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.  Also, travel to either border should be avoided if possible given the periodic security incidents along the border regions.


The US Embassy in Kuwait issued this: Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City – Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

The embassy also released a statement calling the explosion “a senseless terrorist attack on worshipers in the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque”, condemning the attack and says that “the United States stands ready to assist our friend and ally Kuwait in any way possible.”

Below is the WH statement on the three attacks:


US Embassy N’Djamena Imposes Travel Restrictions on Embassy Staff After Suicide Bombings in Chad

Posted: 2:40 am  EDT


On June 15, the U.S. Embassy in Chad temporarily closed to the public due to reported explosions in the capital city.  All American citizens and their families were advised to shelter in place and not to travel around town.





Late Monday, Embassy  N’Djamena released the following security message informing American citizens in the country of travel restrictions imposed on embassy personnel following the suicide attacks in the capital city:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Travel Restrictions and Security Review – June 15, 2015

Due to the bombings in N’Djamena on Monday, June 15, U.S. Embassy personnel are required to travel in armored vehicles and are restricted from traveling after dark to public places such as bars, restaurants, and markets. U.S. citizens are encouraged to review the Travel Warning for Chad, and to remain alert for potentially dangerous situations. U.S. citizens should avoid locations frequented by foreigners, including shops, restaurants, bars, and places of worship.

U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution throughout the country, and maintain vigilance in daily affairs, even when visiting familiar locations.


US Embassy Cairo: Local Guard Arrested on Terrorism Charges Without Prior USG Alert

Posted: 12:10 am EDT



The Daily Beast:

“An embassy official confirmed to The Daily Beast that 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the mission in downtown Cairo. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.

Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill.”

 Additional details from Daily New Egypt:

The reports claim that State Security prosecution accuse Ali of being a commander with a militant group, the Helwan Brigades, and participating in 13 attacks, including the bombing and burning of a Helwan court.

However, activists who have been documenting a wave of forced disappearances by the Egyptian security authorities in the past two weeks shared an account of a man named ‘Ahmed Amin Suleyman’, 44, who is claimed to be a staff member at the embassy. Suleyman reportedly had his house raided on 25 May, but he was not at home. The following day, Suleyman fell out of contact – 12 days before the reported arrest of ‘Ahmed Ali’.

Following his disappearance, his wife received a phone call informing her that her husband had been arrested. Family members went to the local Helwan police station, but were informed that Suleyman was not there. The family submitted a 1 June telegram to report his disappearance and request support, a copy of which was seen by Daily News Egypt.

VOA reported on June 10 that Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of activists ahead of a general strike planned for June 11, part of what the activists describe as an unrelenting crackdown on dissent. There are also reports of forced disappearance cases believed to be abductions by security forces.

Local nationals working for our embassies overseas are often targets, especially in repressive countries.  We can’t know this early if these are real charges or if this is a case of a targeted arrest for some other reason.  There’s a lot we don’t know here.  We just hope our congressional reps would refrain from running around with their hair on fire when they read this news.  We should give our government a chance to verify the basis of these Egyptian charges before we hold one more outrage hearing on security failure.

What should be most concerning is the fact that the Government of Egypt apparently had enough evidence to arrest this individual on terrorism charges, but did not provide prior warning to the U.S. government. Why?

Let’s see — we give Egypt  $1.3bn in annual military funding, and no one bothered to pick up the phone to alert the embassy about this alleged terrorist working at the mission? That’s some kind of partnership we have there.