US Embassy Caracas Updates Staff Policy Due to “Recent Kidnapping of Embassy Personnel”

Posted: 3:06 am ET
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On September 25, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a Security Message updating its policy on embassy staff and family members’ movements in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas informs all U.S. citizens in Venezuela that the policy regarding the movements of U.S. citizen diplomats and their family members in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela has been updated.  As always, the Embassy encourages all U.S. citizens living in and traveling through Venezuela to remain vigilant at all times and to practice good personal security.

Effective immediately, Calle A (through La Alameda neighborhood, the intersection of Calle B/Calle A to the Centro Commercial Santa Fe)is ano travel zonefrom “dusk to dawn” daily for all diplomatic personnel until further notice.

Travel in groups is highly recommended.  Travel outside the Embassy’s housing area by U.S. diplomats between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. must be conducted in armored vehicles or in groups utilizing at least two vehicles.  Group travel may be conducted with unarmored vehicles.

This decision was made due to increased concerns surrounding the recent kidnapping of Embassy personnel traveling in a diplomatic-plated vehicle on this road and other incidents.  This policy is subject to review in 30 days.

Makes one wonder if these kidnappings are now specifically targeted against embassy personnel.

Diplomatic Security’s Venezuela 2017 Crime & Safety Report issued in back in February is excerpted below:

Venezuela remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with increasing violence and criminal activity in 2016, at times reaching unprecedented levels. The government of Venezuela often attempts to refute claims of increasing crime and murder rates; however, their claims are widely rejected by independent observers. Official crime figures are not released by government officials, but unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased in 2016, despite unprecedented levels in 2015. The majority of Caracas’ crime and violence remains attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. Caracas is notorious for the brazenness of high-profile violent crimes (murder, robbery, kidnapping) committed in neighborhoods across the city, at all hours.
[…]
U.S. Embassy locally employed staff often report being victims of armed robberies and carjacking. There is no indication that American citizens or U.S. Embassy-affiliated personnel are specifically targeted for crime because of their nationality or official status.

Read the full report here.

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U.S. Embassy Bamako: Gunmen Storm Le Campement Kangaba Tourist Resort in Mali

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Posted: 3:52 pm PT
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Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako issued a security message concerning “a possible increased threat of attacks against Western diplomatic missions, places of worship, and other locations in Bamako where Westerners frequent.” (See Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Increased Threat of Attacks in Bamako (9 June, 2017).

On Sunday, June 18, gunmen reportedly attacked a tourist resort in Mali popular with Westerners.  According to BBC News, the gunmen have stormed the luxury resort Le Campement Kangaba, east of the capital Bamako.  The report citing the country’s security minister says that two people are dead, and that the hostages have been released. Two other people had reportedly been injured including a civilian, and that 32 guests had been rescued from the resort.

The U.S. Embassy in Mali says that the resort is 30 minutes southeast of the capital city. We understand that all our embassy folks are fine. State/OSAC is urging travelers in Mali to check in with their families and friends. See related posts below for previous security reports on this hotspot.

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U.S. Embassy Doha Issues Security Message Amidst #Qatar Diplomatic Crisis

Posted: 2:45 am ET
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On June 5, the U.S. Embassy in Doha issued a security message over the break in diplomatic relations between Qatar and other Gulf countries.

On June 5, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt announced the cessation of diplomatic and consular ties with the State of Qatar. Qatar Airways and other airlines in the region have announced the suspension of certain flights to and from Qatar. The U.S. Embassy takes this opportunity to remind all U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Qatar to check directly with your travel providers for any potential impact on your personal travel arrangements and remain alert to additional developments. The embassy is monitoring the situation closely and is working with the Government of Qatar to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the country.

We should note that the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar is concluding her assignment, and the NEA Bureau‘s Acting Assistant Secretary is retiring. No successors have been announced to-date for both positions.

A 2010 OIG report notes that Embassy Doha is a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Government agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million. A key element of the U.S. Qatari strategic partnership is the use of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, one of the most important military bases in the Middle East.

American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico

Posted: 2:19 pm PT
Updated: 2:48 PT
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An American diplomat serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico was shot Friday as he was reportedly leaving the city’s Plaza Sania mall.  The FBI is offering $20,000 for information leading to identification of the suspect. USCG Guadalajara has posted three video clips showing the shooter, and images of the attack on its Facebook page.

“Please call the United States embassy in Mexico City if you recognise him at (01-55)5080-2000.”

According to the Guardian citing Guadalajara’s El Informador newspaper, the victim was reportedly being treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound in the upper chest.  The State Department has not named the person who was shot, but the Mexico Attorney General’s office identified him to the news media as Christopher Ashcraft.  The police source told the Guardian that he suspected the shooter was a professional killer. “He was probably aiming for the head but he missed as he leaned over to put his ticket in the machine.” 

A friend of the victim who notified this blog of the shooting said that the FSO is “conscious in the ICU and will likely be okay.”

Congressional Records dated September 8, 2015 indicates that one Christopher Nolan Ashcraft of the District of Columbia was appointed as a member of the Foreign Service to be Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

This latest attack will resonate deeply with USG employees overseas, especially in light of the latest GOP move in Congress of using embassy security funds as a “bargaining chip” to try and force the move of the US Embassy in Israel (see Senate Bill to Slash Embassy Security Funds in Half Until US Embassy Jerusalem Officially Opens). Or for that matter, the potential targeting of specific Federal employees with the recent reinstatement of the Holman Rule under the guise of “retrenching expenditures” (see House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Slash Pay of Any Federal Employee).

USCG Guadalajara has issued the following security message:

As the investigation into the January 6 shooting of the U.S. Consulate employee continues, U.S citizens in the Guadalajara area are urged to restrict their movements outside their homes and places of work to those truly essential.  They should also take care not to fall into predictable patterns for those movements that are essential.  They should vary the times and routes of their movements.

Below is the CCTV footage by USCG Guadalajara showing a man in a purple T-shirt loitering by what is reported as the car park exit before pulling out a pistol, firing at the car, and then running away.

 

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Failure of Iraq’s #Mosul Dam Would Likely Cause “A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions”

Posted: 2:29 pm PT
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In February 2016, the US Embassy in Baghdad released a fact sheet on Mosul Dam.  It warned that in the event of a dam failure, the floodwave would resemble an in-land tidal wave between Mosul and Samarra’, and would sweep downstream anything in its path, including bodies, buildings, cars, unexploded ordinances, hazardous chemicals, and waste. It notes that less than 6 inches of moving water is strong enough to knock a person off his feet, and 16 inches of moving water can carry away most automobiles. Flooding south of Samarra would resemble that of Hurricane Katrina, with standing water that pervades much of Baghdad for weeks to months. As floodwaters recede, mud and waste-covered remnants of previous infrastructure will be left behind.  Flood water could reach depths greater than 45 feet in some parts of Mosul City in as little as one to four hours, giving residents little time to flee. Flood water could reach Tikrit in one to two days.  Flood water could reach Baghdad in three to four days and have depths of up to 33 feet in the river channel.  Some parts of Baghdad would be flooded, which could include Baghdad International Airport (see US Embassy Baghdad Issues Warning on Possible Collapse of Iraq’s Mosul Dam).

The State Department’s July 2016 Travel Warning notes that the Government of Iraq has taken measures in improving the structural integrity of the dam but urged contingency planning for those who reside in the floodplain. The same Travel Warning also notes that the ability of the Embassy to assist U.S. citizens facing difficulty is extremely limited.

The Government of Iraq has begun to take measures to improve the structural integrity of the Mosul Dam.  A dam failure could cause significant flooding and interruption of essential services from Mosul to Baghdad.  While it is impossible to accurately predict the likelihood of the dam failing, the Embassy has made contingency plans to relocate its personnel in such an event.  The Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in Iraq, especially those who reside in the floodplain of the Tigris River, prepare their own contingency plans, have valid U.S. passports, and stay informed of local media reports and Embassy security messages for updates.  

Dexter Filkins has a new story in  (subscription) about the potential coming flood if the Mosul Dam collapses and cause a “catastrophe of Biblical proportions.” Earlier this month, Al Jazeera also reported that the Mosul Dam collapse ‘will be worse than a nuclear bomb’. Apparently warnings by scientists and environmentalists about an imminent collapse are dismissed by Iraqi officials as far-fetched.

 

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US Embassy Kinshasa Orders Employees to Shelter in Place This Weekend in the #DRC

Posted: 12:06 pm PT
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The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa issued a security message informing U.S. citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo that U.S. government employees have been instructed to limit their movements to and within Gombe starting on Saturday, December 17.  Employees have also been asked to remain in their residences from Saturday at 23:00 until Sunday, December 18 at 05:00.

On Sunday, December 18, a Shelter-in-Place order will go into effect at 19:00.

The U.S. Embassy will be open on Monday, December 19.

U.S. citizens should:

  • Remain indoors in a safe location on December 19.
  • Avoid demonstrations.
  • Be sure to have extra food, water and medication on hand.
  • Establish a communication plan with your friends and family, so they know when to expect to hear from you.

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Secretary @JohnKerry Swears-In Sung Kim as U.S. Ambassador to the #Philippines

Posted: 1:29 am ET
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Meanwhile, in the Philippines ….

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US Embassy Kuwait: Construction Vehicle as Weapon Targets U.S. Military Personnel

Posted: 4:12 am ET
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On October 9, the US Embassy in Kuwait issued a Security Message to US Citizens in Kuwait about a failed terrorist attack against deployed U.S. troops:

U.S. Embassy Kuwait confirms that what at first appeared to be a routine traffic accident involving three deployed U.S. military personnel on a Kuwaiti highway on Thursday, October 6, was in fact an attempted terrorist attack.  An Egyptian national deliberately rammed a construction vehicle into a passenger vehicle containing the three U.S. personnel.  The Egyptian driver was incapacitated by the impact.  The three U.S. military personnel, who were uninjured, pulled the driver from his vehicle, which had caught fire.  The perpetrator was subsequently hospitalized and is in Kuwaiti custody.

We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.  Nonetheless, this attack serves as a reminder to maintain a high level of vigilance, and the Embassy advises U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert to their surroundings at all times.

Read in full here.

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@StateDept Terminates Evacuation Orders For U.S. Mission Turkey

Posted: 1:51 am ET
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On September 23, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey urging American citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel in the country. The notice also informs the public of the termination of the evacuation orders for family members of USG employees posted in Turkey:

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the  country. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the September 23, 2016 decision to end the authorization for the voluntary departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, which was made following the July 15, 2016 attempted coup. In addition, effective September 24, 2016, the Department of State is ending the ordered departure of family members of U.S. government personnel posted to the Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir. The Department of State will authorize employed adult dependents (21 year or older) of employees to return to Adana.

U.S. citizens should still carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time. The Department continues to monitor the effects of the ongoing State of Emergency; recent terrorist incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, and throughout the Southeast; recurring threats; visible increases in police or military activities; and the potential for restrictions on movement as they relate to the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey. Delays securing consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, continue.

Just a couple of days  prior to the Travel Warning, the US Embassy in Ankara issued a security message saying that there were reports of a police investigation into a terror cell in Gaziantep.  The information suggests the terrorists are possibly targeting shopping centers, Starbucks, Big Chef Restaurants and or other businesses catering to Western customers.   U.S. citizens in Gaziantep are advised to exercise caution when patronizing these sorts of businesses and to avoid them if possible.

 

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U.S. Embassy Libreville Cancels Routine Services For Sept2 Following Gabon Demonstrations

Posted: 3:24 am ET
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On September 1, the US Embassy in Gabon released a security message concerning the protests and demonstrations roiling the country. It announced that it will be open for limited operations only on Friday, September 2.

The U.S. Embassy in Libreville informs U.S. citizens that widespread, violent demonstrations, rioting and looting have taken place in Libreville, particularly in the area of Cite de la Democratie-Voie Express-Boulevard Triomphal, and extending through many of the city’s central and southern neighborhoods following the announcement of presidential election results.  Further protests and demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

Security forces have responded to the situation with tear gas and have placed roadblocks at major arterial roads, cutting off transportation across the city. There is also debris and burned cars blocking the roads in some areas.

There are reports of violence in the cities of Oyem, Bitam, Port Gentil and Lambarene.

At this time the airport is open and operational and commercial flights are available.  The Embassy recommends U.S. citizens remain in a safe location and avoid non-essential movement. The Embassy continues to monitor the situation and will update you as appropriate.

Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.  Be vigilant and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.

The U.S. Embassy in Libreville will be open with limited operations on Friday, September 2.  Routine consular services have been cancelled, but emergency consular services for U.S. citizens continue to be available.

 

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