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

Going On Vacation In Iraq

Iraq
Who the hell would want to spend their vacation in Iraq?

Lots of people, if they knew the reality behind the media image.

Iraq is the cradle of civilization, with famous sites such as Babylon, Ur, and Uruk. It’s also home to stunning Islamic architecture, lively souks and a variety of terrain ranging from snowy mountains to marshland, along with way too much desert.

And then there are the people. Anyone who has traveled in the Middle East can attest to Arab hospitality. Get away from tourism hotspots like Egypt and parts of Morocco, and you’ll find the Arabs to be warm, welcoming, and always ready to sit down and chat. It seems the less visited the area, the more interested the locals are in meeting foreigners. Using this logic, I figured Iraq should be a pretty friendly place, besides the occasional terrorist, of course.

Because of security concerns, individual travel in Iraq is forbidden. Luckily, a few hardy adventure travel companies offer group tours. I chose Hinterland Travel, run by Geoff Hann, an old hand in the region who I interviewed a few years ago. He was running tours there even back in the days when a certain pot-bellied tyrant named Saddam was in power.

So I’m traveling in a war-torn region rife with sectarian violence under the care of a man I’d never met? Isn’t that a bit stupid? Car bombs, Al Qaeda, people being beheaded on Youtube videos, hello!

Yeah, yeah, I know. But there are 31 million people living in Iraq 365 days a year, so there’s got to be a lot more happening there than that. That’s what I signed up to see. I’ve been to so-called dangerous regions before – Palestine, Kurdistan, and Somaliland, to name a few – and every single one of them turned out to be less dangerous than TV wants us to believe. The media thrives on death. When the famine ended in Ethiopia, it dropped off the news. When the civil war ended in Colombia, it dropped off the news. And how often do you hear about Iraq when something isn’t blowing up?

The top photo showing a bunch of heavily armed guys is what you might expect from Iraq. But wait, they’re smiling, and those two foreigners with them aren’t getting capped! That’s part of life here – lots of guns and lots of smiles. To get even further away from the image the mass media rams down our throats, jump the cut to see another of my daily experiences in Iraq.This is the start of a new series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Run-in With The Iraqi Police!”

[Top photo by Rob Hammond. Bottom photo by Per Steffensen]
Iraq

Latest al Qaeda threat targets hotel buffets

al qaeda hotelAccording to a report from the Department of Homeland Security, al Qaeda terrorists have targeted buffets at various U.S. hotels and restaurants as their latest terrorist threat. USA Today reports the threat is “credible” and hotels have been briefed and are on alert.

According to USA Today:

While the report says that hotel industry security officials have been briefed about the potential threat, Joe McInerney, who runs the industry’s chief association in Washington D.C. – said that federal officials say that “there is nothing specific” in terms of a potential threat against hotels so the industry isn’t immediately worried although it is taking action.

Here’s what CBS reported:

The plot, uncovered earlier this year, is said to involve the use of two poisons – ricin and cyanide – slipped into salad bars and buffets. Of particular concern: The plotters are believed to be tied to the same terror group that attempted to blow up cargo planes over the east coast in October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In online propaganda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has praised the cargo attack, part of what it called “Operation Hemorrhage.”

The food poisoning threats are credible, and the Dept. of Homeland Security says public health officials are on alert. There hasn’t been any indication as to what hotels are being targeted or which ones have been briefed.

We want to know: Will you still eat at a hotel buffet this holiday season?

Terrorist threat goes after veggies in hotels

Terrorist threat targets vegetables in hotelsShould you really eat your vegetables? It’s a fair question, according to the latest from CBS News. The latest terrorist threat, it seems, is to poison food in hotels and restaurants at several locations in a coordinated, single-weekend attack. The threat has been called “credible,” according to CBS News’ sources, and the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and the FDA have been talking to hotels and restaurants about it.

The people involved are believed to be involved with the same guys who tried to bomb cargo planes back in October – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Ricin and cyanide are said to have been the poisons of choice.

CBS News continues:

On Monday Dept. of Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said, “We are not going to comment on reports of specific terrorist planning. However, the counterterrorism and homeland security communities have engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. Indeed, Al-Qa’ida has publicly stated its intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks for well over a decade, and AQAP propaganda in the past year has made similar reference.

So, there appear to be two alternatives: (1) eat steak and stay safe and (2) eat vegetables or the terrorists win. Frankly, I think broccoli rocks, and I’m not giving it up.

CBS notes: “The fact remains the government and hospitality industries are on alert.”

[photo by ilovebutter via Flickr]

Afghan archaeologists race to study Buddhist site before destruction

We all remember the Bamiyan statues, those giant stone Buddhas the Taliban blew up in 2001. One of the 1,500 year-old statues is pictured here. Pictures are all we have left of them.

Now another Buddhist site in Afghanistan is under threat of destruction. This time the danger isn’t the Taliban, but a Chinese mining company. The site of Mes Aynak in eastern Afghanistan was home to a thriving Buddhist monastery in the seventh century. It’s also right next to an abandoned Soviet mine that may have the world’s second-largest reserve of copper. A Chinese mining company has invested $3.5 billion to exploit the mine and Afghan officials are eager for work to get underway.

A team of Afghani archaeologists is busy excavating the site and has found an entire monastery complex with more than 150 statues. They were originally given three years, a woefully inadequate length of time for a team of barely forty people, and now they’re being pressured to finish by the end of this year. The archaeologists fear that once the miners move in, the monastery will get wrecked.

The mine will bring much-needed jobs and wealth to Afghanistan, which is also courting adventure tours, so the in the rush to yank copper out of their land they might want to think about preserving some of their past.

[Photo courtesy Marco Bonavoglia via Wikimedia Commons]