US Embassy Kinshasa Remains Closed to the Public For Sixth Day Over Terror Threat #DRC

 

On December 2, the US Embassy Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that it will be closed to the public again due to a terrorist threat against USG facilities in the capital city. Below is part of the announcement:

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa is working closely with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to address a terrorist threat against USG facilities in Kinshasa.  The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa will be closed to the public on Monday, December 3.

 Actions to Take:

·        Maintain a heightened level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.

·         Monitor local media for updates.

·         Keep a low profile and notify friends and family of your safety.

·         Review the country page  and remain alert for potentially dangerous situations.

US Embassy Kinshasha previously “received credible and specific information of a possible terrorist threat against U.S. Government facilities in Kinshasa” on November 24, 2018. It initially closed to the public with only minimal staffing on Monday, November 26, 2018.

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US Embassy Haiti: Employees on “Shelter In Place” Order, 15-Mile Radius Travel Restriction

 

The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a Security Alert on November 18 as anti-corruption protests broke out in Haiti. The alert cites protests, roadblocks, burning tires, and possible gunfire within the capital city including the areas of Petionville, Peguyville, Delmas, La Saline, Cite Soleil, Nazon, Sans Fil, Bel-Air, Champ-de-Mars, Carrefour Aeroport, Bourdon, Canape Vert, and outside the capital, in the areas of Port-de-Paix, Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Hinche, Gonaives, and Jeremie.

The Embassy required its American employees to shelter in place. “Pending further changes, the Embassy plans to announce a delayed opening (10 a.m., Monday, November 19.” Employees remain “prohibited from traveling within Haiti beyond a 15-mile radius of the Embassy without prior Chief of Mission approval.”

US Embassy Bamako: Two Navy SEALs, Two Marines Face Multiple Charges in Melgar’s Murder

 

This is a follow-up to our post in October 2017 about the  death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar who was found dead in his room at post housing in Bamako, Mali on June 4, 2017.  Two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six were reportedly under investigation in his death. (see U.S.Embassy Bamako: Army Green Beret Logan J. Melgar’s Death in Mali Under Investigation as Homicide).  Now two Navy SEALs and two Marine Raiders are facing murder charges in the 2017 death (see USNI News for charge sheet).  A medical examiner ruled that Sgt. Melgar’s death was a homicide by asphyxiation.  USNI News reports that the SEALs and Melgar lived in the same house and were members of the same joint special operations team attached to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako. These individuals will face a preliminary Article 32 hearing on the charges at Naval Station Norfolk on Dec. 10 according to USNI.

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U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

 

This past July we blogged about the guilty plea of U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar over his attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat assigned at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico (see U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico).

We posted previously about this case:

On November 7, USDOJ announced that Zia Zafar was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mr. Ashcraft. In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release. The DOJ release also notes that Mr. Ashcraft survived the attack, but that “the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.”

The original statement is available here.

U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

A U.S. national and former medical student was sentenced to 264 months in prison for the 2017 shooting of a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Acting Special Agent in Charge Tom Jones of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian J. Schurman for U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security and Director for Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, previously pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar was sentenced by U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release.

“Zia Zafar targeted a U.S. government employee and surveilled him before shooting him in the chest at close range,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “The Department of Justice will do everything in its power to prosecute anyone who targets U.S. officials at home or abroad.  I commend the investigative team and our law enforcement partners in Mexico for their outstanding work in bringing Zafar to justice for this premediated heinous act.”

“The FBI works closely with international partners and security services in order to conduct complex investigations and acquire evidence from abroad for criminal prosecutions in the United States,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jones.  “I want to thank the Mexican government for their full support and cooperation throughout this investigation.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

“Today’s sentencing of Zia Zafar sends a strong message: Diplomatic Security is committed to making sure those who attack diplomatic personnel representing America abroad face serious consequences,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Schurman.  “Diplomatic Security’s strong relationships with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. and foreign law enforcement partners around the world continue to be essential in the pursuit of justice.  Such crimes threaten the national security of the United States.”

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea and facts presented at the sentencing hearing, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar, then living in Guadalajara, Mexico, armed himself with a firearm and wore a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance.  He then waited in a parking garage for the victim, a vice consul who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara, following him as he walked towards his vehicle.  After noticing a security guard nearby, Zafar changed his location to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the vice consul to exit.  When the vice consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the vice consul in his chest.  The vice consul survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the vice consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Walutes of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

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We were hoping that court records would provide some more clarity about this case, unfortunately, they don’t. We wanted to understand what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this attack. There is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.  U.S. Attorney Terwilliger says, “The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States.” All consulate officials represent the United States in Guadalajara, what made this specific diplomat the target?  The U.S. national attacker reportedly lived in California but was studying in Mexico. This individual left California, went to Mexico, and then later decided to surveil the consulate in Guadalajara in order to find a target? Why? What made him decide he suddenly wanted to shot a representative of his own country one day? What was the trigger? This case remains perplexing to us.

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Overseas Voters: Absentee Ballot Still Missing? Use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)

Per Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), if you requested your absentee ballot and haven’t received it from your State at least 30 days before the election, you can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). The FWAB is an emergency backup ballot but can only be use to vote for federal offices.  This backup ballot can be completed using the FWAB online assistant, by filling out the PDF or picking up a hard copy version from your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The online assistant will guide you through the process of completing the form. More info here via FVAP.

FVAP notes that they will be around on election day and if you have any questions about voting absentee, you may call their toll-free helpline at 1-800-438-VOTE or email them at vote@fvap.gov. On Nov. 6 FVAP will be available for extended hours, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, to assist voters wherever they are.

Your blogger voted for reason and decency. Please vote.

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Nicaragua Crisis Escalates as Ortega Regime Continues Targeting of Anti-Govt Protesters

 

The State Department updated its Travel Advisory for Nicaragua on July 6, 2018 to Level 3 urging that U.S. travelers reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to crime, civil unrest, and limited healthcare availability.  The update also includes the announcement that the U.S. government has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel in the country and that while the U.S. Embassy remains open, it can only provide emergency services for U.S. citizens.

According to the Miami Herald, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission puts the number of dead since April 18 at 264, while Nicaragua’s Pro-Human Rights Association puts the figure at 309 people and thousands of wounded.

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Officially On: Revocation/Denial of Passport For Americans With Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt

 

The IRS has now posted a notice on its website indicating that it has began sending certifications of unpaid tax debt to the State Department in February 2018. Americans with seriously delinquent tax debt (totaling more than $51,000 (including interest and penalties) , per IRC § 7345 will be certified as such  to the State Department for action. The State Department reportedly will not issue passports to to individuals after receipt of certification from the IRS.

Back in December 2015, we first reported in this blog  about the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or “FAST Act” which includes Section 7345 that provides for the revocation or denial of U.S. passports to applicants with certain tax delinquencies considered ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ –that is, a tax liability that has been assessed, which is greater than $50,000 and a notice of lien has been filed. That law was passed and the IRS was supposed to start certifying in early 2017 but that did not happen.

According to the recent IRS notice, upon receiving certification, the State Department shall deny the tax delinquent individual’s  passport application and/or may revoke his/her current passport. If the passport application is denied or the passport is revoked while said individual is overseas, the State Department may issue a limited validity passport but only for direct return to the United States. Read more here via IRS.gov

Note that the guidance also says that the State Department is held harmless in these matters and cannot be sued for any erroneous notification or failed decertification under IRC § 7345.  Affected individuals can file suit in the U.S. Tax Court or a U.S. District Court to have the court determine whether the certification is erroneous or the IRS failed to reverse the certification when it was required to do so. “If the court determines the certification is erroneous or should be reversed, it can order the IRS to notify the State Department that the certification was in error.”

The State Department’s statement on this issue is available here with IRS contact details.

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July 4, 2018: Celebrations, Boycotts, Lies, Cages, Profiteers, One Fired Cartoonist

 

Meanwhile — we understand that it was a spectacular show on teevee. Apparently, one story changed more than a dozen times, and ratings were like nothing ever seen before.

And then a cartoonist was fired for his catalog of brutal realities. If you’ve lived in developing countries ruled by dictators (who typically, take over media outlets in the name of protecting their people), you will quickly realize that media outlets run by pals and cronies is a perilous cliff. Before long, the only cartoons and news fit to print are friendly litanies of the life of the country. There are no dissenters in fairytales, of course. We don’t want to be that country. I don’t think we will … but it doesn’t help my troubled soul tonight.

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Foreign Service Posts Mark Memorial Day 2018 #NoHappyMemorialDayPls

Posted: 2:40 pm PT

 

Here are two posts sending out “happy” Memorial Day greetings. Cemeteries, dead loved ones do not make for a happy day. We remember them, we honor them, we thank the families for the sacrifice of their dead loved ones, but there is nothing happy about it. This is not unique to this two posts, of course, but it bothers us more than it should this year. We don’t think they meant ill but we  hope posts would give some thought about why this is not a “happy” day and tweet accordingly.

Something from 2016 from former FSO Kael Weston about Memorial Day:  “For those who have lost loved ones in battle, a different and quieter sort of memorializing is likely to take place in homes, churches and neighborhood cemeteries. “I miss you” posts will be left on Facebook pages remembering lost sons and daughters. Veterans will gather with their former units, recalling buddies over beer and burgers. Parents, children and spouses will lay wildflowers, notes and bottles of liquor near simple grave sites in remote towns. These are the places where so many service members come from and where so many return to in death.”

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Security Threat Prompts U.S. Embassy Turkey ‘s March 5 Closure to the Public

Posted: 2:08 pm PT
Updated: March 6, 12:28 am PT
 

 

The US Embassy Ankara announced a second day closure for Tuesday, March 6, 2017. No reopening date has been announced as of this update.

On Sunday, March 4, 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced that it will be closed to the public tomorrow, Monday, March 5, due to a security threat. Embassy Ankara informs U.S. citizens that the U.S. Embassy in Ankara will be closed to the public on March 5, 2018, due to a security threat.  The Embassy will announce its reopening, once it resumes services. During this period, only emergency services will be provided.  Routine services, such as passport renewals including lost or stolen passports, reports of birth abroad, and notarial services, are not considered emergencies.  Requests for these services will be processed through our online appointment system once the Embassy reopens.  Visa interviews and other routine services are cancelled; applicants will be informed directly of steps to take. Actions to take:

  • Avoid large crowds.
  • Avoid the Embassy.
  • Heighten your personal security posture and awareness if you choose to visit popular tourist sites, shopping malls, shopping districts, and sports and entertainment venues.
  • Notify family and friends of your safety.
  • Monitor local media for updates.
  • Keep a low profile.

 The U.S. Mission in Turkey which includes the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the constituent posts in Istanbul and Adana is currently headed by career diplomat Philip Kosnett who assumed the duties of Chargé d’Affaires in October 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ assignment in Turkey.   Prior to becoming CDA, he was appointed  Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey in July 2016.

Turkish media reported previously that INR’s Daniel B. Smith will be appointed as the next U.S. envoy to Ankara following Ambassador Bass’ appointment to Kabul. To-date, the Trump Administration has not publicly announced a nominee for the post in Ankara. Ambassador Smith who still heads INR has now been tapped to lead the current phase of Tillerson’s Redesign (see 2017 Redesign Ends With a Whimper as Tillerson Announces Start of “The Impact Initiative”).

Also note that the State Department has previously urged Americans to reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory. Read More.

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