Tag Archives: Security Message

US Embassy Bangkok Issues Security Message on Thailand Protests

– Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Bangkok issued a security message to U.S. citizens in the country concerning the mass protests  in the capital city. BBC News Bangkok reports that today is the eighth day of protests aimed at unseating Yingluck Shinawatra, who became Prime Minister of Thailand following the 2011 general election.  Four people have reportedly died and dozens have been injured in the civil unrest that shows no sign of abating.

Domestic political activists in Thailand are holding large demonstrations at several sites throughout Bangkok. These demonstrations may continue in the coming days, including at several Thai government facilities in areas within and outside of Central Bangkok.

Violence, including gunshots, was reported on the night of November 30/morning of December 1st in the area of Ramkhamhaeng University in the Bang Kapi district northeast of Central Bangkok. At least two persons have been reported killed and several dozen have been reported injured. Police have used tear gas and other measures to protect government facilities at several locations in Bangkok.

Although the Thai government has not implemented a curfew, senior officials have recommended that residents remain at home from 10:00 p.m. Dec 1 through 5:00 a.m. Dec 2.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok will be open on Monday as usual. Please check the Embassy’s web page and Twitter feed for updates.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports.

The UKFCO’s current Travel Advice on Thailand notes that “on 25 November the authorities in Thailand implemented the Internal Security Act in all districts of Bangkok and Nonthaburi as well as the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan and the Lat Lum Kaeo district of Pathum Thani, which will lead to an increased security presence and possible disruption to traffic.”

Previous anti-government protests in Thailand occurred in March, April, and May 2010 which resulted in the occupation of  Bangkok’s business district. The government’s operation to clear the protesters led to multiple deaths and injuries, property destruction, and a closure of the embassy for over a week.  According to a 2010 report, the unrest also resulted in the  relocation of embassy personnel from residences close to the protest zone, issuance of a travel warning, and granting of authorized departure for family members.

The embassy estimates that regional services-related work occupies 51 percent of its personnel. The 2010 inspection report of US Embassy Bangkok notes that the country team at Embassy Bangkok is composed of representatives from 40 U.S. Government executive branch agencies and departments, plus one legislative branch agency.   The US Embassy in Bangkok has also doubled in size in the last 10 years largely due to the concentration of regional services in Bangkok.  At the time of the inspection there were almost 2,000 employees with US Mission Thailand, including local nationals and U.S. local hire.  The report cautioned that “The trend toward regionalization in Bangkok may have reached its limit, as its advantage as a politically stable location for regional operations is diminishing with Thailand’s rapidly evolving political situation.”

Prolonged protests have the potential to impact regional support on finance, payroll (for as many as 67 embassies), human resources,  regional training, customer services, as well as courier services and engineering services.  No State Department Travel Warning or Travel Alert has been issued as of this writing.

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US Embassy Islamabad: Centaurus Mall Complex Off Limits to American Staff

– By Domani Spero

On October 23, the US Embassy in Pakistan declared the Centaurus Mall Complex off limits to its American staff.  A security message was issued to inform U.S. citizens in the country of the official restriction:

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, informs U.S. citizens that the Embassy is currently prohibiting U.S. staff from visiting the Centaurus Mall Complex in Islamabad.  This restriction on Embassy personnel is consistent with existing security guidance encouraging avoidance of locations where large numbers of people tend to gather. 

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Screen grab of the Centaurus Mall Complex

According to its Wikipedia page, the Centaurus Mall is located in central Islamabad with over four-storey, and has around 250 shops.  It opened to the public in February 2013:

The Centaurus is a mixed use real estate development in the most central location of Islamabad, Pakistan.[3] Designed by British architectural company WS Atkins, it comprises three skyscrapers, containing corporate offices, residential apartments and a 5-star hotel. The tallest skyscrapers in the city have 41 stories and all three are linked by a shopping mall. Interior Design of The Residence and Mall have been designed by ODEION-Turkey. Its estimated cost is $350 million USD.

The Centaurus Mall website says that it has “five floors of ultimate shopping experience.”  The mall features a five-screen cinema, a gold souk, designer and wedding lounge, food courts and fine dining, a supermarket and leisure and family entertainment.   It also has four levels of parking in the basement.

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US Embassy Uganda Issues Security Message of Possible Westgate-Style Attack in Kampala

— By Domani Spero

On October 15, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda issued a security message concerning a “possible Westgate-style attack” in the capital city of Kampala.  The mission says it is assessing “reports” that such an attack “may soon occur” in Kampala but also says there is “no further information” on timing or location of this attack.

Below is an excerpt from the security message:

Possible Westgate-style Attack in Kampala

October 15, 2013 | U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala continues to assess reports that a Westgate-style attack may soon occur in Kampala. Embassy officials are sharing all information with the Ugandan authorities. At this time, there is no further information on timing and/or location of this attack.

The Embassy will continue to alert U.S. citizens to any credible, specific information about this and any other potential threats. We again take this opportunity to remind the community to exercise vigilance and to avoid public venues that attract large crowds.

Following the deadly attack in Kenya, Uganda Police have reportedly taken over security at key public places, especially shopping malls in  Kampala.  Presumably, Somalia’s al-Shabab responsible for the Westgate attack also read the news.  In early October, local news reported that Police has received “credible information indicating that wanted terrorist Andreas Martin Mueller alias Ahmed Khaled,” of German origin and reportedly connected with Al-Shabab have entered the country.  Uganda has a large expatriate population so there are potentially other soft targets in the country besides shopping malls.

This made the Daily Press Briefing, of course:

QUESTION: It doesn’t seem to be particularly well-written; at least, it leads one to the conclusion that – the last sentence is something like, “There is no further information about the time or venue of the attack.” Does the United States actually have credible and specific information that some group is plotting a Westgate Mall-style attack in Kampala? Or is this just kind of you’re aware of that there is a general buzz about the possibility that it could happen?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to spell out the specifics of it and its meaning. Obviously, we put out the statement because –

QUESTION: Well –

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no.

MS. PSAKI: We put out the statement because of our concern and because of information available, but in terms of the specificity of that, I’m not going to outline that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the last line of – the last line of before it gets into the –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — the basically the B matter about registering and stuff, do you have it there?

MS. PSAKI: I thought I did. I don’t think – I can’t find it right now, but I thought I had it.

QUESTION: All right. Well, it –

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: — speaks of not a threat, but it speaks of an actual attack. And I’m just curious as to – was that poorly written, or is it just a – is this is a threat that you’re aware of, or is there an attack that you know is going to happen?

MS. PSAKI: I will see if there’s more we can provide. These things are written very specifically for reasons, so –

QUESTION: Yeah. Except that since there wasn’t – hasn’t been an attack yet, it seems to be not written well.

MS. PSAKI: Clearly, when there’s a concern we provide information to American citizens.

QUESTION: But I’m not even sure that there is a concern. It doesn’t say that you are concerned by information. It just talks about the possibility, as if it erupted from thin air – as if it erupted from thin air. So I’m just wondering if there is more to it; and if there is, could you tell us what it is?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

The full DPB is here.

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US Mission Egypt Now on Authorized Departure But July 4th Celebration Still On

— By Domani Spero

On June 28, the State Department announced the authorized departure of “a limited number” of non-emergency USG personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing unrest.  Since we’re now in the summer season and school is out, hopefully a good number of family members have already left the country. The Travel Alert dated May 15, 2013 has now been replaced with a Travel Warning that U.S. citizens defer travel to Egypt at this time.

The embassy had previously announced that it will be closed to the public on Sunday, June 30 and later announced closure also for Monday, July 1.  (See US Embassy Cairo: To Close on June 30, Be Prepared to Shelter in Place).  But as of today, we understand that the Embassy Front Office has yet to cancel post’s July 4th celebration for next week.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest.  On June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members.  U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert issued for Egypt dated May 15, 2013.

On June 28, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.

Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt’s 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future due to unrest focused on the first anniversary of the President’s assumption of office.  Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There are numerous reports of the use of firearms as well. While violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including downtown Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said, the security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm. Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.

Read the June 28 Travel Warning here.

In related news,  Ahram Online is reporting that a 21-year old American has become a second casualty amidst clashes in Alexandria.  The report citing  Amin Ezz El-Din, head of Alexandria’s security directorate said that the young American had been taking pictures with his mobile phone near one of the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Morsi hails, when he was stabbed to death.  Neither the US Embassy Cairo or USCG Alexandria has confirmed the death. Then there’s this side story from McClatchy Newspapers’ Middle East Bureau chief:

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Update @ 10:04 pm PST:  The American killed in Alexandria has been identified by Kenyon College as Andrew Pochter.  Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., died during clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi.  He was an intern at AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa.  There is troubling report that the victim was asked if he was an American prior to stabbing. If true, this would be the second incident in a few weeks that appears directed at U.S. citizens.  Until May 9th this year, security advisories from the embassy were still saying that “in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt.”

The ongoing protests leading up to the mega-protest organized for June 30 while directed at President Morsi and his party are taking on an increasingly anti-American tenor.

The Tamarod (Rebel) Campaign collecting signatures for an early presidential election has listed its reasons online including one why it rejects its sitting president: “We reject you… Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the USA.” More about the Tamarod campaign here.

The protesters are saying it with banners, too; all posted on Twitter and cc’ed to @USEmbassyCairo.  The banners are made with specific messages; as well, there are photos circulating of the U.S. ambassador’s photos spray painted with red X marks.  That looks like a lot of anger just waiting to burst …

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Twitter_Obama

Meanwhile, CNN’s Barbara Starr said that U.S. Marines stationed in southern Europe have been put on alert as a precaution in advance of expected large demonstrations and potential unrest in Egypt this weekend:

About 200 combat capable Marines in Sigonella, Italy, and Moron, Spain, have been told to be ready to be airborne within 60 minutes of getting orders to deploy, according to two administration officials.

The units have several V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that would carry troops and infantry weapons to Egypt to protect the U.S. Embassy and American government personnel and citizens if violence broke out against Americans.

The officials both emphasized this is contingency planning in advance of the expected demonstrations to ensure American military assets, including rescue forces, can act if needed. In the event Americans had to be evacuated from Egypt and could not get to the airport due to the unrest, there are about 2,000 additional Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea, officials said.

A third official said the decision to keep the warship in the Red Sea was “very precautionary.”

Continue reading:  Out of precaution, Marines on ready to go to Egypt to protect U.S. Embassy, citizens.

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US Embassy Cairo: To Close on June 30, Be Prepared to Shelter in Place

— By Domani Spero

 

The US Embassy in Cairo issued its Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 48 indicating that the embassy will be closed on Sunday June 30th, set as the date for a national anti-Morsi, anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt. While the embassy did not actually say “be prepared to shelter in place,” it notes that the situation is “particularly unpredictable” and folks need to “possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.” Below is an excerpt from the security message:

In anticipation of demonstrations that may turn violent, the U.S. Embassy will be closed to the public on June 30th. The U.S. Embassy will continue monitor conditions and announce decisions regarding its operating status.

As potentially violent protest activity may occur before June 30th, U.S. citizens are advised to maintain a low profile and restrict movement to the immediate area of their residences and neighborhoods starting on June 28. U.S. citizens should monitor announcements from the U.S. Embassy and local media in order to stay current with the situation. As the security situation is particularly unpredictable, please ensure you possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.

Due to a report that opposition groups plan to solicit signatures at sixteen Cairo Metro stations on the morning of June 25, the U.S. Embassy is advising its personnel to utilize other transportation means. Though violence is not expected in connection with soliciting signatures, it is possible that confrontations between individuals involved and opposing groups could become violent.

Meanwhile,  @USEmbassyCairo can’t seem to catch a break after Ambassador Anne Patterson’s recent outreach events suffered an online backlash not just on Twitter but also on the embassy’s FB page. Some pretty nasty stuff there.

On the June 30 closure, one Twitter user tweets, “Everybody is officially freaking out.”

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US Embassy Cairo Issues Security Message: Yo! Maintain Good Personal Security; A Terror Cell Got Disrupted Also!

But … nothintodowithus!

Two days after the Egyptian Government announced the arrest of three militants with ties to Al Qaeda plotting terrorist attacks in Egyptian cities and after local officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target, the U.S. Embassy Cairo finally released Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 44: Maintaining Good Personal Security in Egypt. Excerpt below:

The knife attack on the Embassy’s perimeter, along with weekend media reports acknowledging that Egyptian authorities have disrupted a terror cell possibly targeting Egyptian and Western interests, serve as yet another reminder of the need to exercise good situational awareness.  Effective situational awareness starts with fully understanding the threat environment and elevating your personal alert level when indicators are present or as the environment may dictate – oftentimes in more public settings. Security and Emergency Messages to U.S. Citizens over the past year portray an environment where elevated awareness and good security habits must become normal practice.

In an incident on May 9, 2013 involving the stabbing of a U.S. citizen on the Embassy perimeter, the victim was approached by an unknown person who asked whether he was an American.  The victim turned away from his attacker, at which point the attacker stabbed the victim with a knife.  Though in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt, U.S policy in the region does elicit strong, often negative emotions in Egypt.  Therefore, U.S. citizens should consider their profile as U.S. citizens, and possibly adjust depending on the area they are in, including near the Embassy compound, or the person/s with whom they may be interacting.  Moving in and around the Embassy perimeter can readily identify U.S. citizens as such.

The Egyptian Minister of Interior’s announcement on May 11 that a terror cell was disrupted signals the need to be vigilant and exercise good security habits.  The most vulnerable periods are normally when departing/arriving from/to residence/workplace and therefore should be a time of elevated awareness.  Please do not set routine patterns; vary your times and routes.  Get a sense of what/who belongs in the neighborhood and  report anything appearing out of the ordinary or suspicious.

 

The knife attack gets the lead and exactly two paragraphs, in addition to one statement previously released about that incident on May 10th (see Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Knife Attack on Embassy Perimeter).  The terror plot unmentioned except for a disrupted terror cell. Makes one wonder if post management even acknowledged to its mission staff that the embassy was a target.

In a separate development, in no way related to whatever —  the embassy also announced that the Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East Philip Gordon (former EUR A/S) visited Cairo to meet with a range of government, political party, civil society, and business leaders.

Dr. Gordon is said to have “reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship and reiterated the United States’ strong support for the Egyptian people as they work to complete their democratic transition.” As well, he “pledged continued U.S. support as Egypt works to stabilize its economy and reach agreement with the IMF to promote its economic recovery.”

On May 9th, the AP reported that the IMF assessed that Egypt’s financial situation is deteriorating and the lending agency won’t move ahead with a $4.8 billion loan until receiving updated economic information and reform plans from President Mohamed Morsy’s government.

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