Travel warning for Europe–U.S. government asks citizens to be on alert

The U.S. government will issue a travel warning today for its citizens going to Europe. The warning is in response to intelligence regarding plans by terrorists to launch Mumbai-style commando attacks in European cities.

The attacks in Mumbai in 2008 were carried out by small groups of heavily armed terrorists who attacked several spots in the city simultaneously. They killed at least 173 people and injured hundreds more. US and foreign intelligence officials say that Al-Qaeda is planning similar attacks in the UK, France, and Germany. Details of the plans were leaked to the press last week. Nobody has been arrested but officials say several European citizens of Asian origin are under surveillance.

The travel warning, which is not as serious as a travel advisory, will tell U.S. citizens of the heightened threat level and request them to be extra vigilant when visiting Europe. No specific countries will be named in the advisory.

So how best to deal with warning? It’s impossible to know where terrorism will strike next, and these vague reports from anonymous officials don’t really clear things up. For some good safety advice check out this post by former Gadling blogger Abha Malpani, who was in Mumbai at the time of the attacks.

[Image courtesy U.S. Navy]

Terrorists injure two tourists near Delhi mosque

Two tourists from Taiwan have been wounded in a terrorist attack at the gate to the Jama Masjid, a historic mosque in New Delhi, India.

Witnesses say two men on a motorcycle drove up and the one riding on the back opened fire on the tourists’ bus, firing a total of eight to ten rounds. The terrorists then drove off and have not been caught. Two tourists are currently being treated in a local hospital and are both in stable condition. One was grazed in the head and the other was shot in the abdomen.

No group has claimed responsibility. The attack comes two weeks before New Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games.

India has seen a spate of terrorist attacks in recent years, the worst being in Mumbai in 2008, in which more than 170 people were killed. In February, 17 people, including several tourists, died in a bomb attack in Pune.

Photo courtesy
Peter Rivera via Gadling’s flickr pool. This shot was taken in 2007 and does not show the terrorists or their victims.

“Ground Zero Mosque” reality check

We’ve all heard about it–the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. Journalists, bloggers, and pretty much everyone else have been screaming at each other about whether it should open or not. All but absent from the debate, however, are hard facts.

Now the Village Voice has published an angry article with facts about the Ground Zero Mosque. First off, it’s a community center as well as a mosque. Secondly, it’s not at Ground Zero. The article has a map showing the proposed community center is two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero at 51 Park Place. Even more revealing are photos of what’s also in the vicinity of Ground Zero–a Burger King, a bookie, and a titty bar. Nobody has called these places disrespectful to the memory of the victims.

Village Voice writer Foster Kamer goes off on people from outside New York City making judgments about the Park51 project, pointing out that the community center will have a 9/11 memorial and saying that people who want to stifle freedom of religion are almost as bad as terrorists. He also reminds us that dozens of Muslims were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including an NYPD cadet. Kamer then rips into the commercialization of Ground Zero. Thousands of tourists flock to it every year, feeding a small industry of guided tours and souvenir stands selling Chinese-made memorabilia. There’s even a hotel that’s using its proximity to Ground Zero as a selling point.

One thing Kamer doesn’t include, however, is a link to the Park51 project, so here it is. The site details what the developers are planning to do with the property.

Is an Islamic community center an appropriate thing to have two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero? Is a titty bar? Is Ground Zero tourism respectful or simply ghoulish? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Photo of 45-51 Park Place courtesy Gryffindor via Wikimedia Commons.

Former American Airlines flight attendant charged with making terror threats

A former flight attendant for American Airlines has been arrested and charged with making terrorist threats. Rodney Lorenzo claimed he sent secret airline information to 25 Muslim charity organizations in the U.S. and U.K.

Lorenzo had been fired by the airline for throwing a coffee pot at a fellow flight attendant, and apparently held a grudge against his former employer.

According to court papers, he sent a letter to the corporate headquarters of the airline, telling them “Karma will soon bite back and your aircraft will begin to fall from the sky like dead birds.”

Lorenzo claims he made hundreds of copies of the airline safety manual, but in the letter he sent to the airline, he also made threats to the employee that was involved in the coffee pot incident, proving that he’s not a very bright terrorist. He has been released on a $50,000 bail awaiting his trial.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/Chris O’Meara]

Situational awareness: can you detect danger before it strikes?

The global intelligence firm Stratfor has published an interesting primer on situational awareness, which is a fancy way of saying that you should pay attention.

The article is based on the obvious premise that most crimes such as kidnapping, robberies and terrorist attacks take several steps to complete, and that if someone is sufficiently aware of their surroundings they can spot the crime unfolding and react. The sharp-eyed street vendor who stopped the Times Square bomb is a perfect example.

Stratfor says that travelers and others who may be in harm’s way must get into the mindset of situational awareness. You should trust your gut instincts because often your subconscious has picked up on something your conscious mind hasn’t had time to process. People should practice being in a state of relaxed awareness similar to defensive driving. Enjoy life, but study your surroundings. Is that protest in front of the government building attracting some angry cops? Is that group of young men staring at you out of more than just curiosity? Who is standing near the ATM you want to use?

Relaxed awareness doesn’t mean being paranoid, it simply means that you should keep your eyes open and your mind active. Enjoy your vacation, but don’t leave your brain at home.

Stratfor has a free weekly newsletter with informative, level-headed articles on topics of interest to travelers and general news junkies, ranging from why we should worry about Al-Shabaab to why the fears over a radioactive “dirty bomb” are mostly hype. More articles and analysis are available through a paid subscription.

Unlike certain news organizations, Stratfor doesn’t exaggerate threats to grab readers. Their articles are meant to make you safer, not make you scared. As they say in the primer, “The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a dangerous one.”

Words to travel by.

Photo of 2007 Bastille protests courtesy David.Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons.