State Department Issues Travel Alert Over Potential Al-Qaeda Attack

State Department
U.S. Department of State

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert that Al-Qaeda is planning an attack in the Middle East or North Africa in the month of August.

The press release, which has not yet appeared on the State Department website [Update: Here's the alert] but is reprinted by Business Insider in full, warns,

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.”It adds, “We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.”

CNN is reporting that some U.S. embassies in the region, including those in Egypt and Israel, will close starting on Sunday for an unspecified length of time.

As of this writing, there is no detail about the nature of the threat.

Update: August 5, 10:07 a.m.
Nineteen U.S. diplomatic posts have also been closed, at least through this week.

Posts in 19 Countries to Remain Closed

‘Phantom Menace’ Set Getting Buried By Tunisian Desert

Phantom Menace
Andy Carvin

Darth Vader’s childhood home will soon be covered by a giant sand dune, the BBC reports.

The collection of buildings in the Tunisian desert was used to portray Mos Espa, a spaceport on Tatooine that was home to Anakin Skywalker, later Darth Vader, in “The Phantom Menace.” Unfortunately they were built on a dune field, a large open area where windblown dunes called barchans gradually migrate over the desert.

Scientists studying the movement of the crescent-shaped dunes, slowly pushed in the direction of the prevailing wind, have used the buildings as a marker point. One barchan is now approaching the set and will eventually bury it. Of course, the dune will move on and the buildings will be revealed once again, but the massive weight of the sand may crush the roofs, while the moving sands will abrade the surfaces.

This isn’t the first Star Wars set to be under threat from the harsh terrain of Tunisia. Last year we reported how the childhood home of Luke Skywalker was saved by a group of fans after it was found to be in a state of disrepair.

Who knows? Maybe a small army of science fiction fans, armed with shovels, will descend on Mos Espa and defy nature by moving the barchan in a different direction. May the Force be with them.

(And by the Force I mean the original concept of the Force as a metaphor for the eternal struggle of good vs. evil in all of us, not the lame-ass subatomic virus it became in the later films. Yeah, give me a shovel. I’ll be there.)

Airline Adds Live TV To In-Flight Entertainment Choices

in-flight

Emirates Airlines has raised the bar on in-flight services for quite some time, offering over-the-top amenities like a shower in first class, Bvlgari amenity kits, dine-on-demand service and more. Now, Emirates has figured out how to add live TV from a variety of sources.

“Installing the type of satellite communication that allows live TV on an aircraft is no easy feat,” said Adel Al Redha, Emirates executive vice-president of engineering and operations, in a Breaking Travel News report.

Currently offering a choice of four live TV channels, Emirates allows passengers to choose from BBC World News in English, BBC Arabic or Euronews.

Sports 24 is a channel with exclusive live coverage of sporting events around the world. Upcoming events include English Premier League and Bundesliga football matches, coverage of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open Tennis, ATP Tour Masters 1000 Series, ATP World Tour Finals, US Open Golf and the British and Irish Lions Tour.

That’s in addition to information systems that allow passengers to follow the progress of their flight and see what’s going on outside the aircraft with external-mounted cameras. Already in place are in-flight phone calls both to ground and other passengers on the plane, as well as the ability for sending and receiving text messages, email and over 1,400 channels of premium entertainment.

Available on select Boeing 777 flights flying over the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and North America, Emirates live TV service is provided via expanding satellite technology, soon to be offered worldwide.

Want a taste of the Emirates first class experience? Check this video, just in:



[Photo credit - Flickr user BriYYZ]

Photo Gallery: Why Are These Moroccan Goats Climbing Trees?

goat in treeArgan oil has been a beauty buzzword for the last several years. Pressed from the nuts of the Moroccan argan tree, this light, golden oil has significant anti-inflammatory properties, and is found in countless hair and skin care products. Argan oil is also considered a specialty/health food product, due to its clean, nutty flavor and high levels of linoleic acid and nutrients (seriously, try it in your next vinaigrette or drizzled on soup).

What most people don’t realize is how the oil is harvested. For anyone who’s spent time traveling in rural northern Morocco, the sight of goats in argan trees, like so many magpies, isn’t uncommon. According to the Daily Mail, however, the native Tamri goats are actually part of what’s become a highly profitable cottage industry.

The animals feast upon the argan berries, and the fruit and pulp are absorbed into their digestive tracts. Berber women then collect their droppings, and remove the remaining nuts, from which the oil is then extracted. Think of it as the kopi luwak of the beauty industry.

Unfortunately, the global demand for argan oil is so great, the tree population is thought to be half of what it was 50 years ago, reports the Daily Mail. Conservationists are now pleading with herders to keep their goats out of the trees, so the berries can fall to the ground and reseed.

Despite the environmental complications, there’s just something about goats in trees that’s irresistible. Check out the gallery for a whimsical tour of Morocco’s acrobatic, aerial caprines.

[Photo credit: Flickr user greenzowie">greenzowie]

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The American Legation In Tangier

American Legation in TangierTangier has some beautiful old buildings. Being inward-looking in the Moorish style, they don’t generally seem like much from the outside. Once you enter, though, you’ll find soothing tiled courtyards with bubbling fountains; elaborate latticework windows; and bright, open rooms.

The American Legation in Tangier is one of the most accessible of these buildings and has the distinction of being the first place designated a National Historic Landmark outside the United States.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States in December 1777, when the 13 colonies were still fighting the War of Independence against the British Empire. The present building started being used as a legation in 1821. It’s set in a narrow alley in the heart of the old city.

It stopped being used as a legation in 1956, when the offices moved to Rabat, and is now a center for Moroccan studies. Entrance to the legation is free.

The rooms are set around a quiet courtyard that feels miles away from the hectic markets and busy alleyways of Tangier’s medina. The legation displays memorabilia from Tangier’s lively art and literary scene. You’ll find paintings by Moroccan masters and etchings from early Western travelers showing life in Tangier before the age of the Internet cafe. Old maps put the region in a larger historic context.

The most popular section is the Paul Bowles Wing, dedicated to the famous American author who lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death in 1999. Here you’ll see drafts of some of his work, magazines he edited, his correspondence, and photos of his wide circle of famous expat and Moroccan friends.

Take time to study the details of this historic building, such as the intricately carved and painted doors and the fine symmetry of the building as a whole. It makes for a peaceful respite from the medina and a place of refuge from the hot Moroccan sun during the summer.

Don’t miss my other posts on Tangier. Coming up next: Ancient Tangier!

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

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