Monday, October 31, 2011

Mexico City Police Make Arrest in Robbery, Murder of US Airways Flight Attendant

Police in Mexico City arrested Jose Manuel Ramirez, 20, earlier today (October 31) for allegedly robbing and murdering a US Airways flight attendant, Nick Aaronson, in the latter's guest room at the Hilton Hotel.

Ramirez reportedly stole the victim's belongings and broke into the in-home safe. Chief prosecutor Miguel Mancera said Ramirez and Aaronson arrived at the downtown Hilton early Friday (October 28) and went to the room together. Mancera said the attack and robbery happened shortly thereafter, when Ramirez severely beat and strangled Aaronson with a belt.

Other US Airways flight attendants asked hotel employees to check Aaronson's room on Saturday (October 29), but found his naked body lying on the floor, with his hands tied behind his back.

COMMENT: Mancera reported that Ramirez had a criminal record and had been released from a Mexico City prison in June. He said the suspect was identified after studying the hotel's surveillance videos. Ramirez is being held pending arraignment. This case offers us several lessons learned: (1) Don't use in-room safes--they almost always have a "backdoor" for hotel staff, plus they can be easily broken into. Alternatively, use the two-key safe deposit box system in the hotel lobby; (2) Be cautious in dealing with new acquaintances--you know nothing about them. In this case, the assailant was an ex-con; and (3) A hotel room where your valuables are is the WRONG place for a sexual encounter, regardless of gender. Always consider the risks.

Colombia's President Dissolves the DAS

President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved Colombia's scandal-plagued DAS (The Administrative Department of Security) earlier today (October 31). To those who are not familiar with the DAS, it is similar, but different from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Unlike the FBI, though, the DAS is also responsible for the immigration service of Colombia, which also issues visas to Colombian citizens.

The DAS' role is tasked in several areas, as it is responsible for providing security to state institutions and personalities, providing judiciary police services and serving as a counterintelligence service to both external and internal threats. Additionally, the agency enforces federal laws pertaining to drug trafficking and the neutralization of rebel and paramilitary groups in Colombia.

COMMENT: This is a formidable move on the part of President Santos, to eliminate a major federal law enforcement agency.

In recent years, the DAS was implicated in spying on presidential foes, including judges, reporters and human rights activists during the 2002-2010 administration of Santos' predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe. Some DAS agents and officials also conspired with extreme-right militias that killed and displaced thousands and persecuted labor activists.

Uribe's first DAS chief, Jorge Noguera, was convicted last month of murder in the 2004 death squad killing of a left-wing university professor. A later DAS director, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, obtained political asylum in Panama with Uribe's help to avoid a fate similar to Uribe's former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno. Moreno was jailed in July pending trial on criminal conspiracy charges for allegedly ordering illegal espionage. He says he is innocent.

About half the 6,000 DAS employees will go to the chief prosecutor's office, where many investigators will join the CTI investigators' corps. The CTI (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación or Technical Investigation Team) is a division of La Fiscalía General de la Nación (Office of the Attorney General of Colombia). Its main function is to advise the Attorney General (Fiscal General) in the determination of policies and strategies related with the judicial police functions, in the topics as crime investigation, forensic services, genetic services and in the management of the technical and judicial information useful for penal investigation.

In making his announcement, with the incumbent director of the DAS by his side, Felipe Munoz, Santos emphasized that many in the DAS are unjustly criticized for the bad needs of a few. Munoz went on to say that 92% of the agency's employees will retain government jobs. He also said that Santos will announce the creation of a new intelligence agency later this week.

It was also not immediately clear as to how much US assistance the new agency might receive. Before the scandal, the DAS received some U.S. training and equipment, including a unit that worked closely with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The scandal broke in February 2009 after the news magazine, SEMANA, revealed the illegal spying on prominent Uribe foes. At least 20 current and former DAS officials have been jailed.

Update: Thailand's New PM Has Learned a Great Deal from the Floods of 2011

Facing the worst and longest flooding in over 50 years, Thais, expats and travelers alike have been flooded since July and some have grown tired of the Thai government's many missteps to get ahead of the curve in the handling of the flooding. In particular, those who don't live in Bangkok's central business district are the angriest because they believe that outlying areas have suffered the most, while all the stops have been pulled out to predominantly protect the capital from the very conditions that have brought life in some 20 provinces to a standstill.

Since July, 400 people have died from the unprecedented flooding. Worse, the situation may not be alleviated for at least another couple of months, if then. The floods have also ravaged the country with the end result being that Thailand's gdp will be reduced by at least 1% and maybe even 2%. Earlier in the year, economists projected to see growth of at least 3.7%, but a more practical estimate may be no greater than 2%. Additionally, some 10,000 factories have had to close, suspending well over 500,000 jobs.

Thailand is also among the world’s foremost exporters of rice, if not the first, but now more than a million and a half hectares of paddies are swamped. As a result, Thailand may have to import rice from Malaysia.

The massive flooding and the lack of emergency preparedness, particularly outside of central Bangkok, has hit Thailand's robust automotive industry particularly hard. As a result, flooding has forced all nine Japanese automakers to halt manufacturing, cutting production by a total of 6,000 units a day. Japanese automobile companies produced about 1.6 million units in Thailand last year. As it stands now, it could take six months for these companies to return to previous levels of productivity.

COMMENT: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, who after 15 years as a successful businesswoman, was catapulted into the prime minister's office. Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 62, served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, but was removed by the military in a coup while he was attending the United Nations Summit in New York City. So, in May 2011, the Pheu Thai Party, closely linked to Thaksin, nominated Yingluck as the party's PM candidate. Subsequently, in a landslide victory, Yingluck became not only the first female PM in Thai history, but the youngest PM in over 60 years.

Although a bright and astute businesswoman who holds an MPA from Kentucky State University, Yingluck not only was inexperienced in running a country, but was unfamiliar in dealing with Thailand's powerful military and police structure and ran into major power struggles after she took office in July 2011, when the national flood crisis was well underway. Not only had Thailand not experienced such massive flooding in fifty years, but she was very new at building trust and confidence within the country's countless power players, many of whom she had never met.

In her defense, though, local and national officials were not speaking with one voice. As a result, politics drove operational decisions as they related to flood gate management and the issuance of a state of emergency, which was decided on too late in the game. Further, flood gates should have been opened when they remained closed. To make matters worse, Yingluck, being new to government, was forced to negotiate and play politics with the powerful governor of Bangkok at the expense of country-wide priorities, who also happened to be a member of the opposition party.

Indeed, Yingluck has learned a great deal from the floods of 2011 and no doubt will govern in the future much, much differently than she did during the summer . She has worthwhile objectives that she wishes to fulfill, providing she can keep Thaksin from exercising political pressure. As is well known, he is one of the wealthiest people in Thailand, a billionaire in his own right, but will have to walk softly to avoid trouble in high places.

American Ingenuity Goes Too Far

As we all know, healthy competition is what drives entrepreneurship, but two managers of a Domino's Pizza franchise in Lake City, FL, seemed to have crossed the line on October 20 when they took capturing market share to a whole new level--by burning down and gutting a rival Papa John's pizza franchise in the same city.

COMMENT: The two managers, both in their early 20s, convinced themselves that with Papa John's out of the picture, their monthly revenues would soar. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way they forgot that arson is a serious felony with real prison time the likely outcome. They are both being held pending prosecution.

Although in some ways the US is becoming more and more like a banana republic every day, lengthy prison time for these two misguided youths hopefully will convince them that EVERYONE needs boundaries, even arsonists.

Traveler's Alert: Air Frances Cancels 15% of Flights

Air France will still be feeling the effect of a five-day strike by flight attendants that will end on November 2, resulting in a cancellation of roughly 15% of its flights on Monday (October 31). To keep as many planes in the air as possible in the middle of a holiday period, the airline has limited short-haul flights to 100 passengers on Saturday and Sunday so that numbers of flight attendants could comply with safety requirements. Unfortunately, that also meant that many flights were flying "light," while passengers were being turned away.

One of the union's main grievances is a plan by Air France to reduce flight attendant staffing on long-haul flights.

COMMENT: Disruptions at the main Paris airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, were limited to an extent by advance warning that 20% of around 1,000 daily flights would be canceled.

Unlike Australia's Qantas Airways, Air France was much more systematic in its effort to satisfy its passengers, whereas Qantas permitted anger with the unions to drive its abrupt shutdown of its entire fleet on Saturday (October 29). As reported earlier, an emergency arbitration hearing has forced Qantas back into the air while negotiations with the unions continue.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Road Accident in Australia's Northern Territory Claims Life of One, Followed by Suicide of Another

Kirsty Robinson, 24, and her co-worker, the latter of whom was from France, were involved in a fatal auto accident 380 kilometers south of Katherine, in Australia's Northern Territory on October 14.

The two co-workers were on an outback adventure at Killarney Station, when the accident occurred. Alcohol and speed were not factors in the accident; however, the two were returning from Katherine with horse feed when a change in the road surface caused the vehicle to crash, killing Robinson. Moments later, Robinson's co-worker, apparently gripped by guilt and grief, wandered into the bush and hung himself.

COMMENT: When the two did not return to Killarney Station, the manager retraced their route and discovered what happened. Police investigators later theorized that the Frenchman covered Robinson after she died and then tragically hung himself.

Fortunately, Robinson spoke to her father hours before the accident and talked of her returning home to attend her sister's wedding. Kirsty's mother and father have been invited to visit Killarney Station to see where their daughter spent her final weeks.

It is regretful that the young Frenchman was not able to speak to the station manager by mobile phone, as it is just possible that the latter could have talked him away from his thoughts of ending his life. How sad it is for two families and everyone they knew to be so devastated by a sudden accident. This reminds all of us that we need to be prepared for our final day on Earth, whenever that is.

Venezuela's Chavez Expropriates 716,590 Acres from British Subsidiary

Earlier today (October 30), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who fashions himself as a modern-day Fidel Castro, ordered the expropriation of 716,590 acres (290,000 hectares) belonging to a local subsidiary of a British multinational company, Agropecuaria Flora, amid a disagreement over compensation for earlier takeovers of ranch-land from the firm. The owner of British subsidiary is Vestey Group (

COMMENT: Chavez said the government had received a demand from Vestey that it be paid in US dollars for the previous seizure of tens of thousands of acres, yet the Chavez government insists that the compensation be made in the local currency, the bolivar.

As most of our readers know, it is extremely difficult for foreign companies operating in Venezuela to repatriate profits and other income in bolivars due to foreign currency controls in the South American country.

Unfortunately, Vestey should have relocated its subsidiary to another nearby country after Chavez seized power, for in 2005, Chavez began expropriating farm and ranch land, with the government employing a 2001 law allowing it to seize lands deemed idle or not adequately used. The government has also seized some ranches for which it alleges the owners didn't hold legal title.

Considering that Hugo Chavez' presidency (1999-present) has converted Venezuela from one of the most democratic and successful economies in the Americas into an autocratic state that is crippled by dysfunction and ruled by a socialist who has forgotten Venezuela's previous stature in the region, the expropriation of land is a direct result of Chavez' failed economic policies to feed his people. Consequently, food must be exported from such countries as Brazil and Argentina.

Other foreign companies operating in Venezuela who have large farmland and ranch holdings would be well served to learn from the plight of the Vestey Group.

Update: Mediator Orders Qantas Back into the Air Effective 10/31

Qantas' fleet of 108 airliners will be back in the skies at 22 airports beginning planes were set to fly again Monday (October 31), after a mediator ordered an end to a bitter industrial dispute that saw the carrier abruptly ground its entire fleet on Saturday (October 29). The ruling by will bring relief to tens of thousands of passengers left stranded. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said aircraft could be back in the air by Monday afternoon.

COMMENT: Justice Geoffrey Giudice, who ordered the airline back into the air, said that his decision will allow for further negotiations between Qantas and unions over the next 21 days to try and hammer out their differences. Qantas said more than 68,000 passengers on 447 flights were affected by the grounding of 108 aircraft in 22 cities, with frustrated customers venting their anger at hubs from Europe to Asia and the US West Coast.

The airline has said that the grounding of flights was aimed at ending three months of sporadic strikes by baggage handlers, pilots and engineers unions, which was costing Qantas US$16 million per week.

Unfortunately, after an explosive annual general meeting where union anger was directed at management, including criticism of Joyce over a steep pay raise he had been approved to receive, Joyce permitted anger to lead to his decision to abruptly shutdown the carrier, without carefully analyzing the ramifications, particularly as they relate to Qantas' customers.

Although Joyce's temper and that of the unions will soon cool, it is unlikely that that will be the case for Qantas passengers who may well think twice before booking their next flight on the carrier.

Three European Hostages Kidnapped Last Week in Algeria Reportedly Alive

An Italian and two Spaniards who were kidnapped in Algeria on October 23, are reportedly alive and being held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a mediator told AFP. The mediator also indicated that a demand for the hostages will be made in the near future.

The kidnapping occurred when unarmed AQIM militants entered entered the Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, western Algeria, where sympathizers of the Polisario Front gave them weapons and helped them locate the Europeans, who were working at the camp.

AQIM, which has its roots in Algeria, has camps in Mali which it uses as a launchpad to carry out armed attacks and kidnappings in the Sahel desert region where the group is also involved in arms and drugs trafficking.

COMMENT: Spanish media identified the Spanish hostages as Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons, the latter of whom was believed to be wounded during the kidnapping. The Italian foreign ministry identified the Italian as Rossella Urru, who works for the Italian Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP).

Al-Qaeda's North African franchise, which has not officially claimed the kidnapping, is currently holding four French citizens kidnapped in northern Niger in September 2010.

Spain Has Highest Rate of Unemployment in EU

The Spanish government released the bad news on Friday (October 28) that unemployment has now reached 21.5% in the third quarter, the highest level since 1996. Nearly 145,000 Spanish residents joined the ranks of the unemployed in the July-September period, bringing the total to more than 4.9 million people.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government embarked last year on an austerity program aimed at reducing Spain’s total public deficit to 3% of gdp by 2013, in line with EU guidelines.

COMMENT: On a positive note, there are indications that Spain’s robust export sector would hopefully begin hiring in the final months of 2011. Unfortunately, Spain’s jobless rate is the highest in the 27-member EU. The effects of the global recession were aggravated in Spain by the collapse of a long construction and property boom that made the country’s economy the envy of most of Madrid’s European partners. Spaniards will vote in the approaching November 20 general election where the conservative Popular Party is favored to defeat the incumbent Socialists.

British PM Authorizes Armed Guards on Merchant Vessels to Combat Piracy

British merchant ships traveling around the Horn of Africa will for the first time be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday (October 30). Cameron's statement stems from a legal ban being relaxed so that shipping companies can apply for a license from the government to carry weapons on board in the most dangerous areas, particularly off the coast of Somalia.

In his statement, Cameron cited evidence that suggests that vessels with armed guards are not boarded by pirates and don't have crews taken hostage for ransom.

The plan could see commercial, passenger and cargo ships carrying firearms off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, in the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean within a month, a spokesman for Cameron's office said.

COMMENT: Although experts agree that private guards do deter pirates, their use can cause problems of legal jurisdiction and spark concerns about the use of mercenaries, questions of liability and private militarization of the seas, yet Cameron stood firm by saying that toleration of piracy has to end: "The fact that a bunch of pirates in Somalia are managing to hold to ransom the rest of the world and our trading system, I think is a complete insult and so the rest of the world needs to come together with much more vigor," the PM emphasized.

Cameron's announcement should be applauded, not criticized. The success of having armed guard aboard merchant vessels will be found in having guards licensed, extremely well trained, rigorously supervised and operating within the constraints of written rules of engagement. This should also include full documentation of all pirate attacks and an external review of all incidents involving the use of deadly force aboard vessels. This should temper the concern of critics.

My hope is that other governments whose vessels have been seized, crews taken hostage for months and who have been forced to pay enormous ransom payments will follow the British government's example.

Traveler's Update: Government Seeks Court Order to Force Qantas Back into the Air

As this posting is filed, the Australian government has asked an emergency arbitration hearing to order Qantas to get its 108 airliners back into the air, after CEO Alan Joyce abruptly grounded Qantas' entire fleet on Saturday (October 29).

As a result, tens of thousands of stranded Qantas Airways passengers worldwide scrambled to reach their destinations today (October 30). To make matters worse, Joyce failed to even notify the Australian government of his action, which prompted it to seek court action to reverse Joyce's decision.

About 70,000 passengers who fly Qantas daily, were stranded at some 22 airports worldwide, although 60 flights already in the air continued on to their destinations

Qantas already had reduced and rescheduled flights for weeks after union workers struck and refused to work overtime out of concern that a restructuring plan would move some of Qantas' 35,000 jobs overseas.

COMMENT: Joyce said the airline could be flying again within hours if the three arbitration judges rule to permanently terminate the grounding and the unions' strike action. Unfortunately, though, his precipitous action created unnecessary discourse, that may sour thousands of Qantas passengers to never fly on the airline again.

Among the stranded passengers are 17 world leaders attending a Commonwealth Summit in the Perth, although the Australian government was helping them get home.

Booked passengers were being rescheduled on a 24-hour basis, with Qantas handling any costs in transferring bookings to other airlines. Yet, holiday bookings have already been canceled by passengers after unions warned travelers to fly other airlines through the busy Christmas-New Year period.

It is difficult to understand Joyce's reasoning, considering that Qantas is one of the most profitable airlines in the industry. Yet, the CEO's abrupt decision on Saturday would cost the carrier $20 million a day while the airline is grounded.

Until such time as the emergency hearing resolves the situation, all airline employees will nto be paid effective Monday (October 31).

We will keep our readers immediately abreast of any decision made at the arbitration hearing.

Update: Prosecutors to Appeal Mild Sentences for Some Marrakech Bombing Defendants

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on this subject, Moroccan prosecutors will appeal a court's decision in Sale [Morocco] on Friday (October 28) to sentence seven defendants convicted in the participation April bombing in Marrakesh to less than five years in prison. Although the anti-terrorism court did sentence Adil al-Atmani to death for orchestrating the bombing of a well-known cafe that killed 17 and wounded dozens more and gave his top accomplice Hakim Dah life in prison.

COMMENT: Yet, the seven other defendants charged in the same trial received only two to four years in prison, which is tantamount to a slap on the hand, given how provoked victims' relatives became after the light sentences were announced by the court. All nine defendants have ten days to appeal the court's ruling.

The Marrakesh bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in the North African kingdom since fourteen suicide bombers simultaneously detonated their explosive belts in a number of Casablanca businesses in 2003 which killed 33 people and 12 suicide bombers. Unfortunately, the nine terrorists who were tried for the attacks later escaped from prison thanks to the assistance of al-Qaeda sympathizers amongst the guards.

It should be noted that Morocco has been one of the West's staunchest supporters of the counter-terrorism effort worldwide and traditionally has been very tough on terrorists who have been brought to trial.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Qantas' Abrupt Shutdown Leaves Tens of Thousands of Passengers in a Lurch

Australian airline Qantas left tens of thousands of passengers and nearly 20 world leaders in a lurch on Saturday (October 29) after it abruptly grounded its entire fleet due to an bitter dispute with airline unions. Travelers in Australia and at regional hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong were outraged as their travel plans were derailed and they were left without luggage and scrambling to book other flights.

COMMENT: Qantas' senior management precipitous shut down of all flights down indefinitely, may come back to haunt them, particularly considering that Perth is hosting the Commonwealth heads of government meeting there; 17 heads of government could be also find themselves stranded there.

This weekend is also one of Australia's busiest travel weekends, with tens of thousands making their way to the Melbourne Cup horse race on Tuesday (November 1), dubbed "the race that stops the nation."

Qantas executives dropped the ball big-time by not even telling Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's government, who appeared to be blindsided by the cancellation and filed an application to block Qantas and the unions.
Even though Qantas advised its customers saying it would provide for accommodations, meals, and transfers, as well as reimbursement for canceled flights, the voluminous buzz on the Internet suggests than many travelers, even loyal Australians, are so miffed that they may never fly Qantas again.

Update: Turkey Calls Off Search for Survivors from Earthquake

Rescue teams in eastern Turkey who have worked around the clock since the devastating earthquake that struck on October 23, will cease their rescue efforts at nightfall this evening (October 30).

Even though temperatures have dropped in the region, the highest levels of the Turkish government have determined that barring a miracle, the hope of finding anyone else alive had run out. To date, 582 bodies have been recovered from the earthquake and 231 survivors have been rescued. Over 2,600 people were also injured during the disaster.

COMMENT: Turkey has accepted help from dozens of countries, including Israel and Armenia, both states with which it has tense relations.President Gul also criticized Turkey's construction sector, after more than 5,000 buildings collapsed across the province. Experts have said concrete mixed with too much sand taken from riverbeds had contributed to making housing units unstable during seismic events.

Admittedly, temperatures in eastern Turkey have cooled, yet I personally believe that the search for survivors was ended prematurely. We often forget just how resilient human beings are when faced with adversity when the will to live exceeds expectations. As we all know, humans who have survived as long as two weeks following natural disasters can be shielded from the elements.

Assailant Kills Three and Injures Two Others in Bizarre Stabbing Rampage in Valencia

Late on Friday night (October 28), a seemingly unsettled man in Valencia [Spain] walked out of his upper floor apartment, walked downstairs and knocked on the apartment doors of other residents and stabbed them as several opened their doors, killing three and injuring two others.

The occupants of one apartment opened the door and the unnamed suspect stabbed and killed a man aged 50 and his 13-year-old son. He also seriously injured the man's 48-year-old wife. Elsewhere in the building, the assailant stabbed a 77-year-old woman to death and seriously injured another resident, age 44.

COMMENT: Thankfully, the man has been arrested by police, but it is unknown as to what his motive was.

None of us ever seem to know when or where a physical crisis is going to confront us, yet it is prudent and reasonable for all of us to always be vigilant and prepared for a life-threatening event. At a minimum, when it comes to being safe and secure in our homes, where we generally feel the safest, caution is still necessary.

Although the security features we have in our homes will vary from country to country, at a minimum, the entry doors into our homes, whether they be single-family homes, apartments, flats, condos or even gated communities, should have an optical view [aka peephole) which permits us to see who it is that is knocking on our door before opening the door to them. Additionally, these same entry doors should have a deadbolt lock on the door so it cannot be easily pushed or kicked open.

The above case closely resembles a posting I made back on September 30, when an unidentified man, 34, walked into the Santa Maria del Pinar Church in northern Madrid and without any emotion or comment, shot and killed a pregnant mother, 36, and then turned his weapon on another woman, 52, who he shot in the chest. Then, without hesitation, he turned the pistol on himself and committed suicide.

Clearly, we are living in a perilous, uncertain world and must always be prepared to safeguard ourselves and our families.

I should mention that I give crime prevention lectures all over the world and would be happy to help communities and organizations that are confronting violence in their lives.

Traveler's Alert: Air France Cancels One in Five Flights Due to Five-Day Strike

Air France was forced to cancel roughly one in five flights earlier today (October 29) as a five-day strike by flight attendants went into effect; wider delays and cancellations are also possible. A spokeswoman for the airline said it aimed to ensure that 80% of the carrier's 1,000 daily flights are staffed; however, the reduction will still have a dramatic impact on passengers.

In a statement posted on its website (, the carrier said that it had canceled TEN long-haul flights to destinations such as New York, Tokyo, Montreal, Abu Dhabi as well as cities in West Africa. The statement also indicated that other last-minute cancellations and delays could occur.

COMMENT: The strike is scheduled to last until at least November 2. One of the grievances of flight attendants involves a plan to reduce staffing on long-haul flights.

Tuesday, November 1 is a public holiday in France and many people take Monday off to extend the weekend break. It also falls during the mid-term school holidays.

Air France-KLM, Europe's largest airline when measured by revenue, was formed by the merger in 2004 of Air France and Dutch carrier KLM. The industrial action concerns only the French side of the operation.

Another major global airline, Australia's Qantas Airways, grounded its entire fleet earlier today (October 29) INDEFINITELY. See my earlier posting on Qantas' announcement.

Travelers scheduled to depart on Air France flights in coming days should contact the airline as soon as possible to determine if their outbound flights will be affected.

Traveler's Alert: Qantas Grounds Entire Fleet at a Cost of US$20 Million a Day

Australia's Qantas Airways grounded all of its aircraft around the world indefinitely earlier today (October 29), due to ongoing strikes by its workers. The carrier's entire fleet of 108 aircraft will remain grounded until unions representing pilots, mechanics and other ground staff reach an agreement with the airline over pay and conditions, CEO Alan Joyce told a news conference in Sydney.

COMMENT: Flights already in the air when the announcement was made were to continue to their destinations; effective Monday (October 31), employees will no longer be paid.

Joyce indicated that this decision has been approved by the Qantas board of directors.
This is a significant development that will have a major impact on air travel in the Pacific and elsewhere.

Travelers holding Qantas reservations should contact the carrier by phone or electronically as soon as possible so as to change flight schedules and routing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Othmani Sentenced to Death in Marrakech Bombing that Killed 17, Injured 20 Others

Adil Othmani, who plotted and carried out the April 28, 2011, bombing of the Argana Cafe in Djemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech [Morocco], was sentenced to death by a Moroccan judge. earlier today (October 28). Two remotely-control activated nail bomb built into bags and left in the cafe killed 17 people, most of whom were foreign tourists, and injured 20 others. Eight of those killed were French citizens.

Othmani was tried with eight other defendants charged in the bombing, one of which was given a life sentence. Seven others were given sentences ranging from two to four years in prison for offenses that included being members of an illegal organization, helping prepare the bombing and failing to tell police about the bomber's identity.

COMMENT: It should be noted that Morocco is one of the West's most dedicated partners in the global counter-terrorism effort and has been most successful in prosecuting defendants charged with acts of terrorism. The carnage left by the Marrakech bombing was only surpassed by the large-scale May, 16, 2003 bombing attack in Casablanca that involved 14 suicide bombs who walked into various businesses in Morocco's business capital, killing 12 of themselves and 33 innocent people. The five-star Hotel Farah was included among the targets. More than 100 people were injured in the attacks as well. Eight of the dead were Europeans (three Spanish among them) and the rest were Moroccan.

Unfortunately, nine Islamic extremists connected to the Casablanca bombings were later convicted and sentenced to prison, but in April 2008, all of them escaped from the Kenitra Prison, north of Rabat. One of the nine had been sentenced to death, six to life imprisonment and two to 20 years. It was later proved that the inmates had considerable "inside" help in facilitating their escape. All nine remain at large.

Two Dead Passengers Aboard Norwegian Cruise-ship Arrives in Boston

When the Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, the Norwegian Dawn, arrived at Boston's Black Falcon Terminal earlier today, two passengers who had died separately aboard the vessel were brought ashore. According to crew members, both of the decedents died on Thursday (October 26).

One of the passengers, a 67-year-old woman, died of a non-suspicious cause, while a 23- year-old man, is being investigated. His cause of death was unknown and his cabin was being scrutinized by crime scene investigators.

COMMENT: Increasingly, as the cruise-ship industry continues to mushroom, and as ships get larger and larger, crimes, passengers who disappear and acts of crime similarly rise. Some cruise-ship lines are very vigilant and proactive when it comes to on-board security, but many are not. In my book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, I devote a chapter to "Cruise-ship security and safety." To order a copy of it, please visit, or order it from

Fourth Attack on Kenyan Targets in a Week, Two Police Seriously Injured

A suspected land mine detonated earlier today when a vehicle carrying members of Kenya's paramilitary police force (GSU) drove over it, wounding three officers, tow of them seriously. The vehicle in which the officers were traveling in was seriously damaged and burned as well. The attack is the fourth on Kenyan soil this week and comes a day after Kenyan soldiers had their first serious clash with fighters from Somalia's Islamist militant group al-Shabaab.

Reportedly, the incident occurred not far from the town of Garissa, near Modika, on the road that leads to the Dadaab refugee camp and then onto the border with Somalia. Two Spanish aid workers, both women, were also recently kidnapped near the refugee camp.

COMMENT: Kenyan forces have now been operating inside Somalia for nearly two weeks without any tangible efforts of either neutralizing al-Shabaab or rescuing three European kidnap victims being held there. While their operation continues, one Kenyan has been killed and 25 injured in four separate attacks on Kenyan targets, causing a serious public relations nightmare for the Government of Kenya, as tourism quickly plummets.

Unfortunately, like a number of other nations who have engaged in military operations inside Somalia in the past, Kenyan forces are discovering that success is ever elusive. Although al-Shabaab has repeatedly said that it was not involved in any kidnappings of foreigners, it nevertheless warned the Kenyan government of retaliation inside Kenya.

Foreign visitors are urged to avoid traveling within 100 miles of the Somalian border.

German Mother, 47, Killed, Son, 17, Seriously Injured in Motorbike Accident on Phuket

German tourist Nicole Wittig, 47, was killed on Wednesday (October 26) while driving a motorbike at about 2300 on Phuket [Thailand]. Wittig's son, Mark, 17, sitting behind her, was seriously injured on Phuket [Thailand], when Nicole suddenly crossed the center line and hit an oncoming Toyota Camry.

Sadly, Wittig's husband,
Ruediger, was driving another motorbike with Mark’s twin brother, Tom, on board. At the time of the accident, the family was returning to their room at the Laguna Beach Resort after having dinner.

Mrs. Wittig died while being transported to nearby Thalang Hospital after suffering severe chest trauma in the accident. Mark remains unconscious in Bangkok Hospital-Phutket's cardiovascular unit. Nicole and her son, Mark, were not wearing helmets at the time.

The driver of the Camry, Chalermpol Thavorn, 32, told police that when he reached a curve in the road, Wittig’s Yamaha Mio crossed the line and collided with his vehicle.

COMMENT: Accidents like this are so very tragic. Clearly, the Wittig family will be changed forever, when this was an avoidable event. It is unknown whether Mrs. Wittig had ever driven a motorbike before, but let's examine the many risks she confronted when the family began to return to their hotel from the restaurant late at night.

First of all, in Germany, vehicles drive on the right, whereas in Thailand, they drive on the LEFT. Converting to a different driving pattern during hours of daylight is difficult enough, but try doing it at night? Secondly, Nicole and her son were not wearing helmets. Thirdly, she did not know the road, which is also poorly lighted, which intensifies the lights from oncoming vehicles. A fourth factor is that the family had had an unusually busy day and would be returning to Germany the next morning.

Now, looking at motorbike drivers on Phuket generally, the majority of them have never driven a motorbike before, yet rental companies will rent these vehicles in a dangerous driving environment with their never having been on a motorbike before. Hence, there is a crying need for better regulation.

A last factor to look at is whether Mrs. Wittig consumed any alcoholic beverages at dinner. If she had, this could well have caused her to cross the center line of the road.

Beautiful and exciting as Phuket is, it has some of the most dangerous roads in Asia. It's population density also increases the risk of fatal accidents. Consequently, I would not recommend cutting corners when it comes to details. If you don't have a Thai Motorbike /Motorcycle License,

DON'T drive these vehicles, particularly if you don't have any experience-- Thailand is not the place to learn.

Any medical costs or property damage stemming from an accident you're involved in will result in the accident being YOUR fault. Regardless of what rental operators tell you, if you don't have a license you may be fined at police checkpoints for not having a license. If you don't have a license and don't wear a helmet, you can also be fined. If you know you're going to Thailand and plan to rent a motorbike or motorcycle, and know how to ride these vehicles, you can obtain a license for roughly US$45.

A final and very important point: If you're traveling abroad, anything can happen, as the Wittigs sadly discovered. Don't leave home until you have obtained INTERNATIONAL medical treatment and evacuation coverage. If you're hurt, sick or injured, you will have to pay for treatment before being treated. If you need a list of providers, send me an email at: and I'll send you one free of charge.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

British Tourist, 62, Shot, Killed for Mobile Phone, Wallet in the Philippines

Paul Atkins, 62, a British tourist from Stoke-on-Trent, was discovered by Filipino police at roughly 0130 on October 16, lying dead on the pavement in the city of Angeles outside of a bar, some 50 miles north of Manila. He had been shot twice in the head and killed at point-blank range by two gunmen on a motorbike, after they demanded his mobile phone and his wallet.

COMMENT: Atkins, who was living temporarily in Hong Kong, but was on holiday in the Philippines at the time, was not identifiable after he was shot, nor did they have contact any numbers of next-of-kin or close friends. He also did not carry his passport information.

Not being able to identify Atkins' body because of damage caused by the shooting, police were able to develop a photo, asking for anyone who knew him to contact the Philippines National Police. Subsequently, a friend of Atkins', who lives in Hong Kong, saw the circulated picture, contacted police and flew to the Philippines to identify the body. Police are now searching for witnesses who might be able to identify the gunmen on the motorbike. Yet, in all honesty, the trail has gotten very cold.

Unfortunately for Atkins, he violated several critical precepts on how to stay safe at night in a high-risk country such as the Philippines: (1) He was out very late at night when "bad people" tend to search for victims; (2) He was alone, which always increases one's vulnerability; (3) He was a foreigner, and generally perceived to have money, otherwise why would be out late at night ?; and (4) Having been found laying outside of a bar, one can presume that he may have been drinking and "bar-hopping," a dangerous combination that can inhibit one's ability to be vigilant.

The rules of engagement if one is partying in the Philippines is due the following: (a) Go out with a friend, so there is protection in numbers; (b) Carry no more cash than is absolutely necessary; (c) Don't look like a tourist; (d) Be off the streets before 2200; and (e) Be observant of possible criminals who may want to get near you and take appropriate action. If you can't follow these guidelines, read or watch a movie in your hotel room and live to party another day.

There are several items that are recommend that ALL foreign travelers carry in their pocket or purse: (1) A copy of their international medical treatment and evacuation coverage--don't leave home without it; (2) A laminated card showing blood type, allergies to medications and a list of medications you take daily; (3) A laminated card that lists the names of five family members or close contacts and their phone numbers (including country and city code); and (4) a photocopy of the photographic page from one's passport and the date he/she entered the country--this should include the passport # and citizenship.

Considering that valuable time was lost between the time that Atkins was shot and killed and when he was identified, it is entirely possible that his assailants will unfortunately live to kill another day.

RPG Attack Kills Four Kenyans near Border with Somalia

Although initial details are sketchy, eight local educational administrators were transporting examinations when their vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) that detonated earlier today (October 27), killing four of the occupants. No additional details were available on the condition of the other four occupants. The attack occurred in El Wak, a divided city on the Somalia-Kenya border.

COMMENT: No group has claimed responsibility, although RPGs are rarely used by common criminals. It is far more likely that the operator of the RPG was intending to kill everyone in the vehicle.

As most of our regular readers know, Kenyan authorities have their hands full these day between a major ground force and air strike incursion deep into Somalia that began some days ago in retaliation for the kidnapping of several Europeans inside Kenyan.

Although Kenya is convinced that the al-Shabaab militia based inside Somalia is responsible for the kidnappings, the group has consistently denied that they were responsible and said it would retaliate against Kenya, which occurred earlier in the week in Nairobi when two separate grenade attacks collectively killed one and injured 22.

The Kenyans have made one arrest in conjunction with the attacks with the assailant claiming to be responsible for one of the attacks and also stating that he is a member of al-Shabaab.

Needless to say, all of this negativity is quickly dampening foreign tourism to Kenya while three abducted Europeans (two Spaniards and on British national) remain in the hands of their captors and seemingly are being regularly moved to avoid rescue efforts. A fourth kidnap victim, a Frenchwoman, died recently while in captivity because her captors refused to give her vitally needed medications that the French government had sent to her through an intermediary.

This incident will be updated for our readers as information becomes available.

Update: Father of German Yachtsman Killed on Nuku Hiva Visits Island

As a follow-up to my last posting on this subject dated October 18 ("Update: Allegation that German Tourist was Eaten on Nuku Hiva Disputed"), Erwin Ramin, the father of the German tourist killed in Nuku Hiva, has arrived in French Polynesia in an effort to try to reconstruct what happened to his son, Stefan Ramin.

COMMENT: DNA analysis conducted by the French government has proved that the human remains found in a fire pit in Nuku Hiva are from the missing tourist, suspected to have been killed by a local guide, Henri Haiti, who is still at large. The elder Ramin has said he would like to establish a memorial on Nuku Hiva so that family can visit the place where his son died. Ramin has also urged the local community not to abandon its plans for a cultural festival because of the tragedy.

Update: Earthquake in Turkey, Death Toll Reaches 523, 1,650 Injured

The Turkish prime minister's center for crisis and emergency management reported early today (October 27) that thus far the death toll from the earthquake that hit eastern Turkey four days has now reached 523. Also, 1,650 people have been injured and 185 survivors have been were rescued from the rubble.

COMMENT: although rain and snow is beginning to complicate the progress of first responders, disaster assistance is beginning to arrive from numerous countries. To date, a staggering 2,200 buildings have collapsed.

As of October 24, 2011, Turkey has reportedly declined disaster assistance from Armenia and Israel, two nations with which Ankara has strained relationships. The Government of Turkey has also rejected most offers of help, including from the US, Britain and Germany. According to Reuters, Turkey has only accepted aid from Iran, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.

Generally speaking, travel to most destinations in Turkey remain unchanged, although it is strongly suggested that all but essential travel be deferred to the provinces of Hakkari, Sirnak, Siirt and Tunceli. For up-to-date travel alerts, visitors should contact the websites of their foreign affairs agencies.

The following link issued by the US Department of State should be helpful:
Additionally, please see:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update: Flooding in Thailand the Worst in 50 Years

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said today (October 27) Bangkok continues to combat the forces of nature as floodwaters threaten to break through dikes protecting the capital of Bangkok as residents took to the road after the government told them to leave if they had the resources to do so.

Regrettably, the urging to leave the capital by the government came to late in the game, as those who are able to leave will encounter road gridlock that could last as long as 100 miles. If the vehicles are able to even get through, they will find accommodations and food hard to come by. Most of them will try to reach Hua Hin or Pattaya, both of which are already filled to the brim with people who left the north days ago.

The country's worst flooding in fifty years, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rains, has thus far killed 373 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million.

COMMENT: Shinawatra, who is inexperienced and youthful, has only been in office since August. Unfortunately, her newness to being prime minister resulted in several US Navy ships leaving Thailand after offering assistance, largely because she was unable to exercise control within her government. Hence, the ships have since left the region.

Traffic in central Bangkok, a city of 12 million, was light as a five-day holiday, declared by Yingluck's government so people could leave Bangkok, began. However, a main road out of the city to the flood-free south was entangled in gridlock.

For thise at were attempting to leave by air, Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi Airport was clogged with people impatiently trying to get on domestic flights to anywhere. Don Muang, the city's old airport, now used mainly by budget carriers for internal flights, had to close on Tuesday and services were transferred to Suvarnabhumi.

The Central Bank has revised its growth forecast for southeast Asia's second-biggest economy to 3.1& this year from 4% as a result of the flooding. The finance minister's projection is a gloomier 2%.

The Defense ministry said 50,000 armed forces personnel were standing by with 1,000 boats and 1,000 trucks to help evacuate people.

Banks and financial markets will operate normally during the holiday from Thursday to Monday, although flooding has forced 295 branches to close, including 21 in Bangkok.

Britain warned against all but essential travel to Bangkok and 26 provinces currently affected by flooding. China urged its citizens not to go to Bangkok and told tourists "in the disaster zone" to leave immediately.

As a diplomat in Bangkok a number of years ago, I remember all too well, even then, that in an effort to find more space for people and buildings, the local government in Bangkok began to fill the thousands of klongs,or canals, in the city. Unfortunately, such an ill-conceived plan simply removed drain-off areas for flood-water to escape to. As a result, flooding has gradually increased over the years with today's plight being the result.

As I have intimated in earlier postings, and in addition to dealing with the scarcity of food, bottled water, cooking supplies, formula for infants, batteries, etc., the Thai government has waited too late into the game for orderly and proactive planning. Not only is there a severe risk of infection by walking in knee-deep brown water, but one forgets that Thailand's millions of poisonous snakes such as cobras and banded-kraits must also seek refuge and may infrequently bite humans in the process. To make matters a bit more complicated, Thailand must reckon with the fact that it is also one of the world's biggest breeder of crocodiles. Sadly, scores are reported to have escaped from farms during the floods.

A related risk during heavy flooding in developing countries is electrocution from downed power lines. Consequently, visitors and residents alike should avoid walking in deep water anywhere near downed power-lines that may be "hot."

Foreigners in Thailand are urged to register with their embassies if they have not already done so and tell them where you are. Additionally, they should monitor their governments' foreign travel websites and listen to local radio announcements on weather and road conditions.

Unfortunately, the Thai government has not handled this crisis well, so many residents are going to be on their own.

Please consider going to the following websites if you have connectivity:

Illegally Configured Tour Bus Crashes on Phuket

Serious motor vehicle accidents on Phuket [Thailand] are sadly becoming a weekly event, largely because of remiss inspections by local officials [of commercial vehicles] and because of the local government's failure to levy penalties against those who put the public at risk.

Earlier today (October 26) a tour bus filled with 36 Russian tourist who had just arrived at Phuket International Airport were being transported to the Duangjitt Resort in southern Patong when the bus veered off the road and crashed. Fortunately, no one was killed, although a number of the tourists did sustain minor injuries.

COMMENT: Now, here is the interesting part. The tour bus operator had registered the vehicle with 23 passenger seats, but following registration, the owner reconfigured the bus to carry 36 passengers, which impacted on the bus' ability to maneuver around curves.

An initial investigation by Transport Department officers indicates it was not a brake malfunction that led the bus to plung off Patong Hill, but rather the suspension could not sustain the load, thereby causing the accident. The area where the driver needed to maneuver around involves a very steep bend which is attributed to numerous road accidents, even in good weather.

One person died in a bus crash on the same bend in March. After that crash, the driver fled and is still wanted by police. In a tourist bus crash just four days ago on Phuket's other heavily trafficked hill, the route between Karon and Chalong, a Chinese woman was killed.

Despite the driver's lying to authorities that the brakes malfunctioned, no such problem has been identified by inspectors. Consequently, the bus driver is likely to face more intense questioning from police tomorrow and Transport Department officers will be beginning an urgent review of bus registrations and driver quality.

Of course, the real question in all of this is why did the Transport Department NOT conduct inspections and levy fines before this and other accidents occurred?

Unless tour organizers can have some success in improving bus safety on Phuket, forcing proactive inspections of commercial vehicles and mandating driver competencies, integrity and oversight, tour organizers should exercise some backbone and demonstrate accountability to travelers. Alternatively, Phuket, given its poorly maintained roads, unsafe buses and non-existent enforcement, should be removed as a destination and tour organizers should mandate vehicle specification requirements at new destinations.

Fortunately, the 36 Russians on board this "coffin on wheels" were not seriously injured or killed. But, what if most of them had been killed? Then what? A wrongful death suit against the tour organizer?

Perhaps I value my life more than others, but if I were directed to get aboard what is quickly becoming an island of unsafe and unreliable transportation, I would alternatively visit a different island in Asia, where there is a greater probability of my getting to my hotel in one piece than not.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Update: Flood-Waters Converge on Bangkok, Government Announces 5-Day Public Holiday

As of today (October 25), Bangkok's domestic airport, Don Muang, has been closed. As for Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi), it is currently open; however, residents and visitors alike should check frequently to determine whether it is open or closed, as the situation in Bangkok is very fluid.

With flood-waters advancing on the capital, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been forced to declare a five-day public holiday in preparation for the onslaught. The cabinet ordered the holiday to span October 27-31 for Bangkok and 20 other provinces affected by the Kingdom's worst flooding in 50 years. Shinawatra emphasized in her statement that all of Bangkok, including the inner zone, would flood, with water levels approaching 1.5 meters in some areas.

COMMENT: Don Muang, Bangkok's domestic airport, is primarily being used as an evacuation assembly point and a headquarters for flood relief assistance. Normally, both airports service roughly 100 flights per day (each).

The public holidays are designed to allow Bangkok's 12 million residents to brace for the floods now creeping towards the city center after swamping other parts of the nation, killing some 360 people and damaging millions of homes. The Chao Phraya River reached record highs of of 2.30 meters on Monday (October 24) with the possibility of water reaching 2.60 meters. Flood embankments can only hold back 2.50 meters of water.

Frequently monitor the below website and local weather reports:

Update: Two Spaniards, One Italian Kidnapped in Algeria

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on the kidnapping of two Spaniards and one Italian on Sunday (October 23), the three foreigners are reported to have been kidnapped by an al-Qaeda-linked "Sahrawi wing," according to AFP. There is also the possibility that the Europeans are being held by a man known as Hakim Ould Mohamed M'Barek, who was arrested in Bamako in 2008, and who has said that there was an al-Qaeda linked group operating inside of the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in western Algeria.

COMMENT: Spanish media has identified the Spanish hostages as Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons, the latter of whom was believed to have been wounded during the kidnapping. The Italian foreign ministry identified the Italian as Rossella Urru, who works for the Italian Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP).

Various sub-cells of al-Qaeda often work under the umbrella group known as al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group is made up of some 500-800 militants who intend to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state. To that end, it is currently engaged in an insurgent campaign throughout the African continent. The group has also expressed its intention to target the nationals and interests of Algeria, Spain, France and the US. It has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. Department of State, and similarly classed as a terrorist organization by the European Union.

AQIM has either claimed responsibility for the following operations or such attacks have been attributed to them:

March 2010: Italian national, Sergio Cicala, and his wife kidnapped;
March 2010: Three militants are killed by security forces near El Ma Labiod, 35 kilometers from Tebessa.
March 2010: Three militants are killed and another captured by security forces in Ait Yahia Moussa, 30 kilometers from Tizi Ouzou.
April 2010: At least ten militants are killed during a counter-terrorist operation in Bordj Bou Arreridj wilaya.
September 2010: AQIM is currently holding four French citizens who were kidnapped in northern Niger in September 2010.

Japanese Woman, 37, Sentenced to Hang for Drug Trafficking in Malaysia

Malaysia's High Court in central Selangor found Mariko Takeuchi, 37, found guilty of transporting 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms) of methamphetamine in a suitcase when she flew from Dubai into the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on October 30, 2009, has been sentenced to hang for her crime. A conviction for drug trafficking in Malaysia carries a mandatory death sentence.

COMMENT: Takeuchi is the first Japanese national convicted of drug trafficking in Malaysia. Her attorney, Mohamad Rafik Rahem, said earlier today (October 25) that he will appeal the verdict. The court rejected Takeuchi's claim that she had not known about the drugs and was carrying the suitcase as a favor for an Iranian acquaintance.

This case brings up questions that may or may not have been raised during Takeuchi's trial: Who was the Iranian acquaintance? Was he brought to Malaysia to testify? Did forensic analysis of the interior of the suitcase Takeuchi was given to carry into Malaysia for her "friend" contain her fingerprints? If not, whose fingerprints? What evidence did the prosecution introduce that showed a relationship between the Iranian and her? Was she paid for carrying the drugs? What proof is there of that? One would hope that Takeuchi's attorney was a criminal trial lawyer with a proven track record. Was Takeuchi ever convicted of a crime or for drug trafficking? If none of these questions can be answered to the benefit of the defendant, her luck in seeking a reversal of the conviction is very unlikely.

As I have said in the past, NEVER transport a piece of luggage across international borders for ANYONE. NO EXCEPTIONS.

American, Danish, Somalian Aid Workers Kidnapped in Somalia

It is presumed that Somalian gunmen kidnapped a female American aid worker, 32, as well as two other aid workers, one Danish, 62, and one Somalian, age unknown, earlier today as their convoy traveled to a local airport in northern Somalia. The kidnappings come only weeks after four Europeans were seized by suspected Somali gunmen in neighboring Kenya. The three employees work for the Demining Group is an NGO whose experts have been clearing mines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. If EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) is what they normally do, what exactly were they doing in Somalia at a time when there are greater international priorities than EOD removal?

COMMENT: I'll be very candid, what in the world were foreign aid workers doing in northern Somalia, given several kidnappings for foreigners from neighboring Kenya, not to mention the fact that Kenyan security forces were deployed inside Somalia a week ago to neutralize al-Shebaab fighter and rescue kidnap victims?

Now, after these three new kidnap victims have been abducted, the Danish Refugee Council suddenly suspends their operation in Somalia. What were they thinking? Suspension of aid operations should have suspended months ago! When will some of these NGOs "get it." While they may think they're doing humanitarian work, the reality is that foreigners inside Somalia might as well have a bounty on their heads.

Reportedly, the kidnap victims were traveling in a three-car convoy, including one vehicle of armed guards, but that the guards did not resist the kidnapping. If they were armed, why were they there? Talk about senseless.

Although details are sketchy, the three kidnap victims are believed to be on their way to a pirate safe-haven on the Somalian coast. The kidnapping comes only weeks after the seizure of two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders inside Kenya. Also, a British woman, 56, is still being held in Somalia after being kidnapped in September and an ailing French woman, 66, also kidnapped and taken to Somalia recently died because her captors denied her critical medications that had been sent to her by the French government.

A week ago, Kenya sent at least 1,600 military personnel into southern Somalia to attack al-Qaeda-linked militants in response to those kidnappings, though it's not clear whether the al-Shabaab fighters were responsible for the abductions. Somalia also has not had a functioning central government in over 20 years. In recent days, and in retaliation for Kenyan forces being sent into Somalia, two separate IEDs were detonated in Nairobi, killing one and injuring 22.

For years I have provided "Kidnapping and Hostage Taking: Understanding, Prevention and Response" courses to aid workers and multinational companies operating in high-risk areas. My sense is that none of the those who have been kidnapped in Kenya and Somalia have undergone such training. Otherwise, they wouldn't have kidnapped. What is really tragic is that the armed guards protecting the Demining Group victims were improperly trained and configured in the convoy. Very sad.

1 Russian Tourist Killed, 17 Injured in Bus Accident in Turkey

Unrelated to the earthquake in eastern Turkey, a Russian tourist was killed and 17 others [also Russian] were injured when a minibus carrying a group of tourists overturned in the southern Turkish province of Antalya today (October 25), according to the Anatolia news agency. The minibus was transporting the Russian visitors from Antalya Airport to their hotel in the Side district before it overturned after crashing into a roadblock in the Manavgat district. Those injured have been taken to local hospitals.

COMMENT: In 2010, 15 Russian tourists died and 25 others were injured when a tour bus drove off a bridge in Antalya. For our readers, you know all too well my concerns for bus travel worldwide. Unfortunately, though, they are far too many bus accidents in Turkey.

I have been advocating for some time that all nations who value their tourism industry, particularly from abroad, to tighten up on laws governing bus capacity, mandated maintenance and driver competency (including penalties for violations), as well as shifting to smaller and more maneuverable vehicles. It should also be noted that many tour operators often purchase the cheapest mini-buses available, which often do not have heavy-duty suspensions built for the capacity, which influences more frequent accidents.

India Angered by Foreign Travel Advisories Re: Diwali

India responded angrily to travel advisories issued by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that warned their respective nationals of the possibility of terrorist attacks during the Diwali festival season. Oddly, though, the travel advisories were only issued have India's own media raised alarm bells of an increased risk of militant attacks.

Nevertheless, tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay dismissed the advice as "nothing but scare-mongering" that would damage the tourism industry during its peak season for overseas business, the Times of India reports. The minister went on to say that "I have taken it up with the external affairs ministry and asked it to persuade these countries to withdraw the travel advisories immediately."

COMMENT: In my view, the travel advisories are fully justified for three reasons: (1) They were stimulated by Indian media reports; (2) The Indian government does not have a stellar record in preventing and neutralizing acts of terrorism on its own soil; and (3) India has a history of preventable terrorist attacks, particularly in recent years, with the latest incident in September when 14 people were killed outside the New Delhi High Court. No one has been charged over the attack. And as most of our readers know, Islamic terrorists killed 166 people in Mumbai in 2008 in a siege of the city that led to many tourists canceling holidays to India.

Diwali will be celebrated in India on Wednesday (October 26), with other religious festivals due in the following weeks. Popularly known as the "festival of lights," Diwali is celebrated between mid-October and mid-November for different reasons. For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated in families by performing traditional activities together in their homes.