Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As Europeans Stand Shoulder to Shoulder on Iran, Where is President Obama?

After Iranian protesters stormed the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday (November 29), British Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced the embassy's closure with an order for all Iranian diplomats to leave the United Kingdom within 48 hours. Additionally, Germany, France and the Netherlands also recalled their envoys from Iran for consultations, while Norway said it was closing its Tehran embassy as a security precaution.

Speaking earlier today (November 30), Mr. Hague stressed, "We have now closed the British Embassy in Tehran. We have decided to evacuate all our staff and as of the last few minutes all our UK-based staff have now left Iran." Hague added: "If any country makes it impossible for us to operate on their soil, they cannot expect to have a functioning Embassy here."

Hague said that the actions do not amount to a complete severing of British relations with Iran, but a downgrading to the lowest level of diplomatic relations. There are reportedly some 70,000 Iranian nationals residing in the UK.

COMMENT: In the face of European solidarity, the one lingering question is: "What risks are the US currently taking to support Europe in this time of need, as Iran poses a potential nuclear threat to the free world?"

Also, who remembers Neda Agha-Soltan, 26? We should all remember her, as she was shot and killed by Iranian security forces on June 20, 2009, during the Iranian election protests? Worse, her death was captured on video by bystanders and broadcast over the Internet as newly elected US President Barack Obama sat by and did nothing to assist Iranian citizens in their demand for freedom. This is the same Barack Obama who would rather "talk" to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, than to "act" to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability.

Sadly, Barack Obama did not help Iranian citizens in 2009, anymore than he helped the British government avoid the events that led to the storming of their embassy in Tehran yesterday. As he approaches his fourth year as US president, how has he acted to assist Israel or our European allies in making the world safer from Iran? On a more national level, how has he neutralized Iran's complicity in the death of US military personnel fighting for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Regrettably, As Iran fears little and persists in its efforts to go nuclear, where is President Obama? Not working night and day with his inner-circle to craft an effective strategy designed to neutralize Iran, but rather, working night and day to be re-elected to a second term as president.

Suspect in Murder of German Yachtsman, 41, Surrenders to Authorities

Henri Haiti, 31, has surrendered to French Polynesian authorities after being on the run for 50 days for allegedly killing and eating German yachtsman Stefan Ramin, 41, and for allegedly sexually assaulting Ramin's girlfriend, Heike Dorsch.

Teeth and bones reportedly belonging to Ramin were discovered on October 10, on the island of Nuku Hiva, after he was murdered, dismembered and parts of him apparently eaten.

Ramin had disappeared the day before after going on a hunting trip for goats with Haiti in the forests that cover the island. Sometime later, according to Ms. Dorsch, Haiti returned alone to the couple's yacht, saying that Ramin had suffered an accident. Haiti then took Dorsch into the jungle where he is alleged to have sexually assaulted her.

COMMENT: Local officials on Nuku Hiva are adamant that cannibalism has not occurred on the island for well over 100 years. It is hoped that French authorities mandate forensic analysis of Ramin's remains to either refute or support how the German died and whether there is sufficient evidence to charge Haiti with Ramin's murder or other crimes.

Additional information will be provided on this case as it becomes available.

German Tourist, 52, Killed in Freak Accident While On Elephant Trek in Thailand

German tourist Kerstin Kretz Schmar, 52, and her husband, were participating in an elephant trek yesterday (November 28) in Thailand's Krabi province (not far from Phuket) when the elephant they were riding on slipped on a wet trail and Mrs. Schmar fell to the ground. A physician later described the victim as dying from a punctured lung.

As this posting is filed, local police investigating the accident have concluded, after interviewing six members of the trekking party (all of whom are related) that the mahout or driver's attempt to adjust the cinch belt on the platform on which the tourists were riding contributed to the accident.

The mahout, walking alongside the elephant, attempted to adjust the cinch when the timber howdah or platform on the elephant's back tilted to 45 degrees. When the timber seat frame showed signs of slipping even more, the German woman apparently panicked and attempted to grab ahold of her husband, at which point she fell to the ground from the howdah.

COMMENT: A sister of the woman - believed to be a registered nurse - attempted to revive Mrs. Schmar with unsuccessful results. An autopsy is scheduled to be conducted in the neighboring province of Surat Thani.

Reportedly, some elephant trekking companies on Phuket and in the nearby provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga ensure that passengers riding elephants are strapped onto their timber frame or howdahs on the elephant's back with seat-belt style restraints, but not all use such devices.

One tourist has been killed and two other tourists have been seriously injured on Phuket and in Phang Nga over the past two years in male elephant rampages. The cause is usually a condition known as musth, when male elephants become unsafe to ride. The overwhelming majority of tourist trek elephants on Phuket and in Krabi and Phang Nga are female.

Admittedly, nothing in life is risk-free, yet international travelers are urged to carefully evaluate tour operators before engaging in activities that could result in injury or death, which is one reason to use the recommendation of an international tour operator in which they have confidence.

As a matter of interest, on previous elephant tours abroad, I have ridden on a number of elephants, but always with a seat-belt type of restraint in the event of an accident as described above.

Costa Rican Report Reveals Why Crime Continues to Rise

A report on crime justice statistics by the non-governmental organization, Jurisis Victomologia, has reported that homicides in 2010 cost Costa Rica (US$60 million). Additionally, only 1.6% of complaints to the police or the courts resulted in prison sentences, the highest rate of criminal impunity in Costa Rica’s history.

Juan Diego Castro, director of Jurisis Victomologia, summed up the findings: “For the second consecutive year we are in the international club of countries with rates of malicious homicides in the double digits. According to the World Health Organization when this phenomenon occurs in a country it is just before an epidemic of violence.”

The study used a matrix of direct and indirect costs of criminal activities to quantify the cost of certain crimes, said Luis Rivera, the economist who headed the study. Direct costs include costs to the victim of property or medical attention, the costs of controlling crime and opportunity costs such as lost productivity. Indirect costs include quality of life costs, effects on the business climate in the country and public trust in institutions.

Castro also emphasized that “The rise of impunity continues its upward tendency. Of the 145,284 complaints presented in the courts last year only 3,856 resulted in sentences. From 1998 to 2010 there has been an increase of 115% in criminal complaints.” Additionally, 2010 saw 506 homicides reported in Costa Rica, of which only 76 resulted in sentences – a rate of impunity of 85%. Those numbers combined with the numbers for other crimes reveal, according to the report, an overall impunity rate of 98.4%.

COMMENT: Jurisis Victomologia's learned report does not reflect well on Costa Rica's criminal justice system and yet, for the first time, offers observers something far more than anecdotal indicators of criminality in Costa Rica. Hence, they are complemented for their efforts and their contributions.

Unfortunately, I have for some time raised concern for escalating violence and crime in Costa Rica, which no doubt reflects adversely on the capacity of the Costa Rican criminal justice system to devote sufficient manpower, training, resources, investigative technology and 21st Century know-how in neutralizing the proliferation of unchecked violence, particularly as it relates to the crime of homicide. It is unsettling to even speculate that other Part 1 crimes [of violence] have similar levels of criminal impunity.

For clarification, The amended Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005, defines impunity as: "the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims."

The First Principle of the same document cited above states that:
"Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations."

Some British Diplomatic Staff Evacuated from Tehran Following Embassy Attack

For the benefit of our readers, please refer to the below link for an update on the British government's response to the sacking of British diplomatic facilities in Tehran.

Also, for the latest update from the British Foreign Office, please go to the following link:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tunisian Terrorist Sentenced to Death in Bamako, Foreign Travel to Mail Discouraged

According to AFP, Tunisian national Bachir Simoun, 24, was sentenced to death earlier today (November 29) for an attack on the French Embassy in Bamako on January 5, 2011, that killed a Malian national. Simoun, who is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was armed with a handgun, an IED (improvised explosive device) and a fragmentation grenade the day of the embassy attack.

COMMENT: Simoun also escaped from prison in February while awaiting trial, but was arrested in northern Mali two days later and returned to prison. Although capital punishment is rarely carried out in Mail, it is believed that Simoun's escape while awaiting trial is attributed to the death sentence.

Given the recent kidnappings of foreigners in Mali, not to mention the murder of a German tourist who resisted a kidnapping days ago, it is strongly recommended that foreigners not travel to Mali unless it is absolutely essential and only if afforded extraordinary personal security support.

iPhone4 Smokes Up Aboard Aussie Flight

While aboard an Australian flight Regional Express ZL319 flight on Friday (November 25), a passenger’s iPhone4 (not to be confused with the new iPhone4S) began to emit smoke while the aircraft was still airborne. The airliner, which was flying from Lismore to Sydney, was in the midst of landing when the incident occured.

COMMENT: After landing, the iPhone4 was confiscated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau for analysis. Although it is rare for iPhone4s to emit smoke, it is possible that the phone's lithium ion batteries overheated, causing the phone to emit smoke. The EU launched an investigation in 2009 after multiple instances of iPhones and iPod Touches exploded or caught fire while in flight in the UK, the Netherlands, France and Sweden.

Needless to say, air passengers are reminded to not just put their smart-phones on "airplane mode," but to definitely turn them off once the boarding hatch is closed. Conceivably, if such incidents continue to occur, infrequent as they are, passengers may well be instructed to remove phone batteries after the hatch door is secured, which will only further complicate peoples' lives.

Update: Russian Mistress of UK Lawmaker Permitted to Remain in Britain

As a follow-up to my October 19 posting, "Update: UK Lawmaker Resigns Amidst Allegations That He Was in Relationship with Russian Spy," a special immigration tribunal's ruling earlier today (November 29) in the case of Russian citizen, Ekaterina Zatuliveter, 26, decided that Zatuliveter can remain in Britain because she does not pose a threat to national security.

COMMENT: This is hardly a good day for MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence service. On the one hand, MI5 may have had a weak substantive case to prove that Zatuliveter was a spy, yet several nagging questions remain: Why would an attractive 26-year-old Russian woman engage in a long-term affair with a 60-something married lawmaker, Mike Hancock, who was on the Parliament's sensitive Defense Committee? Perhaps it was no more complicated than a Russian woman wanting to live in the West. Perhaps. Then again, MI5 may very well have simply presented a weak evidentiary case.

Still, the tribunal chaired by Judge John Mitting conceded that it was possible that the panel had been duped by an extremely convincing agent sent from Russia with little love for Britain or the West. Strangely, though, the tribunal accepted the government's assertion that Hancock was a likely target for Russian intelligence. It is also well known that Russia's intelligence efforts against the UK have been extensive and aggressive.

The British government can still pursue the deportation case in a higher court, but no decision on whether to continue the attempt to deport Zatuliveter has been made public.

Zatuliveter was arrested last December on suspicion of using her job in Hancock's office to pass information to Russian intelligence. Zatuliveter admitted they had a four-year affair, but denied engaging in any espionage. Ironically, Hancock himself should have cooperated fully with British authorities, but apparently chose not to do so.

The Home Office released a statement following the tribunal's decision that officials are "disappointed" by the ruling and that they stand by the decision to seek her removal. One can only hope that the government of conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has the strength to deport Zatuliveter, rather than run the risk of having Britain's national security compromised.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Airlines at Heathrow Begin Canceling Flights Ahead of November 30 Public Strike

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on a public sector strike affecting Heathrow Airport on November 30, airlines servicing Heathrow reported on Monday (November 28) that they are canceling some flights in and out of Heathrow ahead of the strike that will include those that process new arrivals through immigration.

As many as 2 million public workers in Britain are expected to join a one-day walkout on Wednesday, from immigration officials to teachers to garbage collectors, in an escalating dispute over planned changes to public-sector pensions.

Although staff and contractors not participating in the strike will be brought in to cover for striking immigration officials at all of Britain's borders, most airlines have advised passengers to reschedule any journeys planned for Wednesday into the UK.

COMMENT: Heathrow's owner, BAA, has warned that there may well be 12-hour delays at immigration halls at Europe's busiest airport. As a result, Heathrow management has asked all airlines to fly half-full airliners into Heathrow during the strike. Gatwick Airport has warned passengers to be prepared for "significant disruption" at immigration as well.

British Airways and Virgin both agreed last week to waive the normal charges for passengers looking to rebook their flights for Wednesday.

In the latest dispute, workers oppose government demands that they work longer before receiving a pension, contribute more money each month and accept a pension calculated using their average career salary, rather than their final salary.

For our readers that are unaware of the strike, it is suggested you contact your airline IMMEDIATELY if you are planning to fly through Heathrow tomorrow, November 30.

Frenchwoman Robbed of Her Handbag, Passport in Adelaide

A female tourist, believed to be a French national, was robbed of her handbag and passport on Adelaide's Currie Street at approximately 0200 hours on November 29, Adelaide time. The victim was reportedly walking alone when she was approached by two men who demanded her handbag.

The woman attempted to fight off her two assailants before they overpowered her and ran off with her handbag, which contained money and her passport. Two witnesses to the incident chased the two men and caught one of them not far from where the woman was accosted, who was later turned over to the police. He was later charged with aggravated robbery and was refused bail. The woman’s handbag has not been found.

COMMENT: The first question is why would a foreign tourist be out alone at night, particularly at 0200, and in a large metropolitan city, where the risk of being robbed is particularly high, regardless of gender?

It was also extremely risky for the victim in this case to resist not one, but two male assailants. First of all, they could have been armed and seriously injured or killed her, which does occur in Australia. Secondly, at 0200 in the morning, she could have been abducted or raped. Fortunately, neither occurred. Then again, her efforts were fruitless, as her purse and passport are now gone. As I have said so many times, no property is worth your life.

Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia (SA) and the fifth-largest city in Australia. Adelaide has an estimated population of more than 1.2 million. Today, Adelaide is noted for its many festivals and sporting events, its food, wine and culture, its long beach-fronts, and its large defense and manufacturing sectors. It ranks highly in terms of livability, being listed in the Top 10 of THE ECONOMIST's World's Most Livable Cities index in 2010, and being ranked the most livable city in Australia by the Property Council of Australia in 2011.

Italian Physician, Croatian Nun Murdered in Burundi

Armed bandits shot and killed a Croatian nun and an Italian doctor at a psychiatric clinic in northern Burundi [Kiremba] on Sunday (November 27), the first such attack on aid workers since 2007.

The bandits first cut off electrical power in the sisters' compound, then demanded money from the nun. Subsequently, they shot and killed her. The assailants then kidnapped the Italian doctor and later killed him.

COMMENT: According to the Italian Foreign Ministry, another Italian nun was also seriously injured by gunfire in the attack, although she has been stabilized in a local hospital.

After relative peace since 2009, and after two decades of war since a Hutu rebel group, Forces for National Liberation, laid down its weapons and joined the government, armed attacks on both civilians and the military have intensified since elections last year that were widely boycotted by the opposition.

Aid workers operating in developing countries continue to be one of the most widely victimized occupational grouping, often with ineffective or non-existent security protection provided by either their employers or the host government in the country in which they are operating.

Another Briton Injured in Motorcycle Accident in Phuket, Countryman Killed Earlier in the Week

A British tourist, Pauli Fford McGannon, 30, survived a motorcycle crash in Phuket at 0310 hours on Monday (November 28) after hitting a tree in Patong. Witnesses reported that he appeared to have been drinking at the time of the accident.

Although McGannon is now recovering in the Patong Hospital, one of his countrymen, Jason Paul Richards, 40, did not fare as well, after being killed in a similar accident on Tuesday (November 22).

COMMENT: A number of British nationals visiting Phuket and other parts of Thailand have been killed or crippled this year even though the British Embassy is constantly issuing warnings about the risk of its citizens riding motorcycles without experience, while drinking alcoholic beverages and without the use of a motorcycle helmet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Traveler's Alert: Be Cautious When Riding Boston's T

Personal crime on Boston's "T," comprised of four subway lines; the Green Line, the Blue Line, the Orange Line and the Red Line has increased nearly 16% this year, particularly from pickpockets, smart-phone snatchers and bike thieves. Hence, visitors to Boston, particularly foreign guests, should be observant, cautious

Transit police responsible for "T" security attribute the double-digit rise in crime — 1,004 incidents so far this year compared to 868 in the same period last year — on increasing ridership, a sluggish economy and the high price of precious metals that drives criminals to steal from passengers, regardless of where they are from.

It marks the second straight year that crimes on the T have risen after a record low in 2009, when transit police reported 827 Part 1 crimes, the fewest in three decades. So far this year, aggravated assaults, bike theft, pick-pocketings and larcenies have already exceeded totals for all of last year.

"T" police officials also attribute most of the 7% rise in robberies to the theft of expensive iPhones and Androids, a trend that’s likely to increase as the MBTA expands cell phone coverage throughout its subway system.

COMMENT: While the "T" police conceptualize new approaches to preventing bike theft and other larcenies, would-be victims are urged to use hands-free devices so that expensive phones can be concealed under their clothing, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, keep tote bags and purses closed and for men, keep wallets in front trouser pockets. Another useful technique is to discreetly observe others who may be sizing a victim up and moving away from such persons or stepping away from areas close to where subway doors open, thereby reducing the risk of a speedy escape. Insurance coverage for high-value electronics is also suggested. See

Young Australian, 18, Electrocuted, Killed in Freak Accident in Bali

Jake Flannery, 18, from the New South Wales' Central Coast, was electrocuted and killed outside Jokers Bar and Grill, at Legian Beach, in the popular tourist area of Kuta, in the early hours of Saturday (November 26).

The teenager had just graduated from Gosford High School last week and was on a school trip with his classmates when the tragedy happened. The accident occurred when Flannery touched a neon sign attached to the cafe and a metal pole, in an area of the street that was under repair and apparently not grounded.

COMMENT: Incidents like this are stark reminders that so many things are different in developing countries, which often pose risks that we don't experience at home.

Mr. Flannery's death reminds me of heavy flooding in Phuket earlier this summer when a young Briton was walking in knee-deep water and entered an area where there were downed live electrical lines causing him to be electrocuted.

Fortunately, in developed countries such areas would have been blocked off from access to the public, yet in many countries such regulations and practices do not exist.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Currency Exchange Kiosk in Phuket Robbed of US$62,000

Two staffers at a currency exchange kiosk in the popular Phuket tourist area of Karon Beach were bound and gagged and robbed at knife-point by a single assailant at approximately 2000 hours on November 26 of mixed currencies with a total value of about 2 million baht (equal to US$62,000).

Amnard Ponpramun, 27, told the Phuket Gazette that he and co-worker Wilaiwan Khao-ong, 22, were closing up the Siam Commercial Bank currency exchange on Patak Road when the robbery occurred.

The employees were getting ready to exit the kiosk when a man armed with a knife pushed his way into the enclosure. After forcing the two staffers to open the safe, he then bound the two employees with tape, as well as across their mouths, to keep them from calling for help.

COMMENT: Eventually the two employees worked themselves free to call for help. Unfortunately, the closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) in front of the kiosk was not functioning, but because the lights had been turned off, the cameras inside the kiosk did not reflect clear images.

The armed robbery of exchange kiosks is not a common occurrence in Thailand, but because the assailant spoke a southern dialect of Thai, it is suspected that he knew the area well and had studied the cameras and lighting and how to circumvent his image being captured on the CCTV.

Update: Foreigners in Timbuktu Evacuated to Bamako

As a follow-up to my earlier postings today regarding the murder of a German tourist and the kidnapping of tourists from the Netherlands, South Africa/UK and Sweden, Malian authorities have evacuated roughly 20 foreign tourists from the ancient city of Timbuktu in northern Mali.

COMMENT: The latest kidnappings brought to five the number of foreigners taken hostage in Mali within a 48 hour-period, after two French nationals described as a geologist and an engineer were taken from their hotel in Hombori 240 kilometers (150 miles) to the south early Thursday (November 24).

Tourism in Timbuktu, an oasis known as "The Pearl of the Desert" and a World Heritage site renowned for its ancient Islamic architecture, was already suffering as foreign governments warned their citizens not to visit the region.

The two kidnapped Frenchman have been identified by AFP named in documents seen by AFP as Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, both of whom had had arrived in Hombori on Tuesday (November 22), apparently on a mission to take soil samples for the company Mande Construction Immobiliere, which plans to build a cement factory in the region.

French authorities had previously classified northern Mali as a "red zone," a recommendation that travel there be avoided. Earlier today the French foreign ministry enlarged the area to include Hombori. The capital of Bamako and the rest of the country is designated an "orange zone," meaning that travel there is not recommended, unless absolutely necessary.

British Woman, 79, Robbed, Killed After Resisting Purse Snatching in Manchester

Nellie Geraghty, 79, was rushed to the hospital near Manchester on Thursday (November 24) after being found unconscious in an alleyway in Oldham, after resisting a purse snatching. Tragically, Geraghty died from her injuries; her handbag also contained the ashes of her late husband.

COMMENT: Although two teenagers, 14 and 17, have been arrested, that is little consolation to the pensioner's family.

Not only did Mrs. Geraghty have her husband's ashes in her bag for some 17 years, but she additionally carried a large sum of money.

Elder citizens should be cautioned that they should carry nothing on their person that is not replaceable, given the unpredictable and increasingly violent world we live in.

Elders should also be taught that no property is worth losing your life over.

Update: Kidnapping at Timbuktu Restaurant in Mali

As a follow-up to my earlier posting this morning on the kidnapping of four foreigners from a Timbuktu restaurant, it has been confirmed that a German tourist was killed during the kidnapping because he resisted being abducted. Also, the nationalities of the other three kidnap victims were from the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden, according to the tourists' tour guide. Two French expats were also kidnapped on Thursday (November 24).

Armed Robbery at Four Seasons Hotel in Vilamoura Results in Hotels Wanting Armed Guards

During the early hours of Saturday (November 19), two masked gunmen robbed the reception desk at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vilamoura [Portugal] by assaulting a security guard and escaping with an estimated 2,000 euros (US$2,657). Consequently, hoteliers are urging the Government of Portugal to change the law so that security guards can be equipped and trained to carry firearms.

The gunmen entered the Four Seasons at approximately 0300 after assaulting a hotel security guard with the butt of handgun and then threatened a reception associate with a sawed-off shotgun, ordering him to surrender all cash.

COMMENT: It is apparent that hotel security should be dramatically improved not only in Portugal, but everywhere. Luxury hotels in the US, Canada, Asia and Europe are equally vulnerable.

Considering that assaults and robberies in the best of hotels is by no means new, laws in all countries should be updated to provide for vetted, well-trained security guards, both plainclothes and unformed, in hotels to be armed so as to be in a position of adequately protecting guests, visitors and employees alike. Moreover, all security guards should should be CPR-qualified.

Additionally, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and electronic security should be used so as to deny access to the hotel of undesirables, particularly during hours of vulnerability.

Current and new hotels should also be retrofitted to permit the institution of effective and efficient walk-through metal detectors so as to keep potentially dangerous persons from entering hotels. This may seem extreme to some, but is simply a best-practices approach, given the fact that criminals carry most of the firearms in today's societies.

One of the most significant vulnerabilities most large hotels have is non-existent security in parking garages. In an era where school-children learn early what a car-bomb is, it is only appropriate that hotel parking areas be subject to the screening of vehicles for explosives, particularly given the regular high-level conferences and meetings that occur in hotels.

Vilamoura is in the municipality of Loulé, in the Algarve, Portugal. Vilamoura is a purpose-built resort and marina that was designed from scratch by a wealthy banker from Porto, Cupertino de Miranda. The resort was started in 1974, and is still expanding outwards from the marine center. The resort is located 14.3 miles west along the coast from Faro and is at 266 kilometers south of Lisbon. The nearest airport is at Faro. It is also one of Europe's largest tourist beach resorts.

Four Tourists Kidnapped from Timbuktu Restaurant, One Executed for Resisting

Several gunmen entered the Amanar Restaurant in Mali’s most famous city of Timbuktu on Friday afternoon (November 25) and abducted four tourists, all described as Europeans, and executed one of the four when he refused to climb into their getaway vehicle.

Up until a few years ago, Timbuktu was one of the most visited travel destinations in Africa, but it is now deemed to be too dangerous to visit by several foreign embassies because of kidnappings by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the region.

COMMENT: After two French expats were kidnapped in the middle of the night from their hotel in the Malian town of Hombori on Thursday (November 24), today's mid-day kidnapping has clearly rattled the expat community in Mali. Since 2003, more than 50 Europeans and Canadians since 2003, with a projected total ransom collection of some US$130 million.

For the benefit of our readers, resisting an armed kidnapping is not recommended because it is the one moment when kidnappers are at risk of being identified or stopped from carrying out their endeavor. Hence, they are very likely to summarily shoot and kill anyone who refuses to comply.

I recall the kidnapping of a Japanese-Peruvian businessman some years ago who was abducted from his office in Lima. After being pushed into the back of a van he began to scream loudly in the foolish hope of attracting attention, at which point he was executed on the spot. Consequently, it is far better to endure a kidnapping and live to be rescued or ransomed than to expose oneself to being killed unnecessarily.

Assuming that it is AQIM that is behind this week's kidnappings of six foreigners, travelers and expats in Mali and Niger should take exceptional security precautions, register with their embassies and adhere to travel warnings.

Timbuktu, also spelled Timbuctoo (on some maps), is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The population is roughly 58,000.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Motorcycle Fatalities in Phuket Mount, Welsh Expat, 40, Killed

A Welsh expat, Jason Richards, 40, died in a motorcycle accident in Phuket [Thailand] during the hours of darkness early on Wednesday (November 23). Richards was reportedly on his way home when the accident occurred. He had only recently moved to Phuket.

COMMENT: According to police, Richards may have been riding his motorcycle at excessive speed, causing him to lose control of the bike and crash into an electrical pole. Richards was not wearing a motorcycle helmet at the time of the accident.

As our readers are well aware, motorcycle and motorbike accidents are a weekly event in Phuket, where far too often fatalities occur because of: inexperience, excessive speed, poorly maintained roads, nonexistent traffic enforcement and failure to wear a protective helmet.

Traveler's Alert: Avoid Heathrow Airport on November 30

A nationwide public-sector strike next Wednesday (November 30) in Britain threatens to significantly paralyze operations at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport. BAA, the airport's operator, said Friday (November 25) that 12-hour delays for arriving passengers are likely because the strike will affect the UK Border Agency's ability to support normal operations.

An estimated 2 million workers are expected to protest changes in public-sector pensions with a 24-hour walkout.

The lines at Heathrow's immigration counters are expected to be so long that passengers will need to be held on planes, BAA cautioned.

"This in turn would quickly create gridlock at the airport, with no available aircraft parking stands, mass cancellations of departing aircraft and diversions outside the U.K. for arriving aircraft," Normand Boivin, the chief operating officer for Heathrow, warned in a letter to airlines.

COMMENT: The letter urged airlines to reduce the number of passengers they bring in on November 30. Boivin said the border agency expects to be functioning at less than 50 percent of normal productivity.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways have both agreed to waive fees for re-booking flights on November 30 and expressed concern over the strike's impact on business.

Government ministers have warned the nationwide could cost the economy half a billion pounds and lead to job losses. Heathrow Airport handles 180,000 passengers on a typical day, according to BAA.

Needless to say, travel through Heathrow in the days before and after the strike are also expected to be particularly heavy. Hence, air travelers who are routed through Heathrow may well want to call their carriers as soon as possible and see if a re-routing is possible or whether those engaged in optional travel can defer their departure date until conditions at Heathrow return to normal.

Two Passsengers Die on Holland America Cruise-Ship

Brazilian police are investigating the death of a US citizen who died aboard a cruise-ship that docked in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday (November 22). According to the crew of the MS Veeddam, which belongs to the Holland American Line, Dorothy Missen Philips, 61, died aboard the vessel that was on a 16-day tour around South America. The ship carried 1,258 passengers and 560 crew members.

After the ship was safely moored in Rio, Brazilian police and health specialists inspected the ship and took the vessel's captain and the head of its medical team to testify at federal police headquarters.

Subsequently, the country's national health surveillance agency (ANVISA) said in a statement that 86 people: 79 passengers and seven crew members, had been reported with gastroenteritis since the cruise sailed off from Valparaiso in the beginning of the month. The vessel made ports-of-call in Argentina and Uruguay before arriving in Rio.

COMMENT: ANVISA added that the outbreak seemed to have been brought under control considering that only one passenger presented gastroenteritis symptoms upon the arrival in Rio, the ship's final destination. Authorities were investigating if the woman's death was related to the illness outbreak. Philips' body was taken to Rio's Institute of Forensic Medicine to undergo an autopsy.

Holland America also said in the statement another guest had died of heart problems during the voyage.

The company added that the ship was sanitized on Tuesday afternoon, before hundreds of guests boarded for a 16-day cruise that set sail for Chile later that day.

As I have suggested in the past, it is essential that anyone traveling abroad for any length of time should undergo a thorough medical examination before initiating travel, so as to avoid encountering a health crisis while abroad.

Additionally, all foreign travelers should ensure that they have subscribed to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage, as their home-based medical coverage rarely is honored in foreign countries. If our readers need a list of such underwriters, please email me ( for a list.

Wal-Mart's Contribution to American Culture: Shopper Uses Pepper Spray at Black Friday Sale

Sadly, American materialism at post-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales have sunk to a new low. At roughly 2230 on Thursday (November 24), a frenzied woman shopper at a crowded Los Angeles, CA Wal-Mart store deployed a pepper spray canister to keep shoppers from merchandise she wanted during a Black Friday sale, resulting in some 20 shoppers sustaining minor injuries.

COMMENT: Police said the suspect deployed the pepper spray at competing shoppers when the coverings over sales items of various electronic products she wanted were removed by employees. Unfortunately, the assailant escaped from the store.

As in past years, in generating manic behavior in the interest of big sales, Wal-Mart has not been adequately staffed at Black Friday sales to maintain order and prevent the types of incidents that occurred in this case.

Unfortunately, few of us expect to be assailed by pepper spray while shopping on Black Friday in the US, but perhaps saving money is not worth the risk. Hence, avoiding massive crowds in congested stores may be the best way in not getting caught up in "mob hysteria." On the other hand, if you brave the stores in search of a great deal, be prepared for the worst in sampling the best of American culture.

Also, see

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Update: Palestinians Who Killed American Tourist, Israeli Get Three Life Sentences

As a follow-up to my September 25 posting, "Update: Palestinian Found Guilty in Murders of US Tourist Kristine Luken and Israeli Netta Sorek," the Jerusalem District Court earlier today (November 24) sentenced two suspects in the murder of Kristine Luken, an American tourist who was stabbed to death in the Jerusalem hills, to a total of three life terms.

The first defendant, Kifah Ghanimat, was given two life sentences, and an additional sixty years in prison. The second, Ibrahim Ghanimat, was given one life sentence and an additional sixteen years in prison. The former is considered to be the head of a Palestinian cell that was linked to the murders.

Ghanimat was given two life sentences because he was also convicted of an additional murder of Netta Blatt-Sorek, 53, a resident of Zichron Ya'akov, which took place a year ago. He was also convicted of a series of other crimes, including theft of weapons, selling weapons, four counts of attempted murder and rape.

COMMENT: In January, the Jerusalem District Police released details regarding its investigation into the cell of Palestinian militants suspected of being behind the stabbing of Luken and her friend, Kaye Wilson, in the Jerusalem hills in December 2010. Wilson, managed to flee the attackers with serious wounds.

Two French Nationals Kidnapped in Mali

Unidentified gunmen, very possibly members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), converged on a hotel in the town of Hombori [Mali] and abducted two Frenchmen early Thursday (November 24), the first such attack in an area located far from the bases of al-Qaeda-linked militants in the country's north.

According to a hotel employee, the Frenchmen were kidnapped after the gunmen tied up the manager, guard and cook and went in search of the two men, who were working on a site about 20 miles (35 kilometers) outside Hombori where a company is hoping to extract material to produce cement. The French government has already confirmed the kidnapping.

COMMENT: If AQIM is responsible for the abductions, it will be the first such kidnapping by the group in Mali, where they will have to traverse the enormous Niger River. AQIM, once concentrated in its home base of Algeria, has rendered huge swaths of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria off-limits to foreigners. The militants are best known for kidnapping Westerners for ransom and are currently holding four French hostages, two Spaniards and two Italians.

Two Canadian Tourists Drown in the Dominican Republic

Two Canadian tourists, 63 and 64, respectively, drowned in the Dominican Republic on November 15, in the tourist district of the town of Sosua, east of the northern province of Puerto Plata. The victims were identified as Nicholas Carlucci, 63, and Joseph Valentino, 64, who were temporary residents at the hotel Magnificent Cabarete.

COMMENT: According to police, the two men apparently drowned while swimming under circumstances that are still under investigation. Autopsies of both men have been conducted. It is possible that the two Canadians encountered dangerous rip currents, which do exist in the DR.

EU Report Shows British Women, Maltese Men Topped Obesity Ratings

According to statistics released Thursday (November 24) by the EU's statistics agency, British women and Maltese men topped European obesity ratings. The data released also showed the proportion of obese adults ranging from 8% eight to 23.9% for women and 7.6% to 24.7% for men.

Though a worry for public health in Europe, the highest obesity rates are well below those in the US, where the corresponding figure was 28.8% for women and 27.6% for men in 2009, Eurostat reported.

COMMENT: The lowest obesity rates were recorded in Romania, with 8% for women and 7.6% for men, Italy, with 9.3% and 11.3%, Bulgaria, at 11.3% and 11.6% and France at 12.7% for women and 11.7% for men.

Highest proportions for women were in Britain, with 23.9%, Malta with 21.1%, Latvia with 20.9% and Estonia at 20.5%.

While men in the former British colony of Malta topped the chart at 24.7%, they were closely followed by Britain at 22.1%, Hungary with 21.4% and the Czech Republic at 18.4%.

Norweigian Tourist, 55, Killed in Gas Explosion at Canary Hotel

Anita Berget, 55, a Norwegian tourist, was killed on Wednesday (November 23) at the Cordial Mogan Playa hotel on the island of Gran Canaria. Ms. Berget died from severe burn wounds. Five others, all hotel employees, were also injured in the blast.

COMMENT: The blast occurred as a truck delivered propane to the hotel. Nearly 1,000 guests had to be temporarily evacuated from the hotel.

Propane is a colorless and odorless gas which is intentionally odorized so that leaks can be detected. The odor is similar to that of rotten eggs. If you smell a gas leak, you should extinguish all cigarettes and other sources of ignition and leave the premises immediately. Do not use any electric switches, appliances, thermostats or telephones that may cause a spark. Close the gas shutoff valve on the propane tank or cylinder. Call your propane supplier or fire department from a cell phone or a neighbor's phone. Have a trained professional investigate and repair the leak. Although propane is stable when exposed to air or moisture, you must avoid using propane near sparks, open flames or even a static charge.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands (a part of Spain), with a population of 838,397 which constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 kilometers (~93 miles) off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1350 km (~838 miles) from Europe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parliament in Romania Votes in Favor of Removing Stray Dogs from the Streets

Romanian Lawmakers in Parliament yesterday (November 22) voted to make it legal to euthanize tens of thousands of stray dogs that roam the country’s streets, after spending 30 days in animal shelters. It is estimated that the strays in Bucharest alone exceed 50,000.

Parliament voted by 168-111 to pass the controversial law which needs to be signed into law by President Traian Basescu. He is expected to sign the bill into law.

COMMENT: Pressure to end strays running freely arose after a Romanian woman was killed earlier this year after she was mauled by a pack of strays. In 2006, a Japanese tourist was also killed by a stray dog.

Ivory Coast Con-man Gets 20 Years for Raping Russian Tourist in NYC

As a follow-up on my October 21 posting, "Con-man Charged in Rape of Russian Woman in NYC," I'm happy to report that Hugues Akassy, 43, who was born in the Ivory Coast, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on November 17, in the Riverside Park rape of a Russian tourist.

Akassy, a smooth-taking homeless confidence man who masqueraded as a French journalist and victimized perhaps as many as ten women in Manhattan, told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jill Konvisor that he was just a misunderstood romantic. Yet, Konvisor told Akassy that he was a sexual predator and summarily sentenced him to 20 years, where he may well become a victim himself.

COMMENT: As I have mentioned in previous postings, tourists should be exceptionally cautious as to who they engage in romantic meetings and interludes with, as the world is full of deceptive criminals who prey on tourists.

Anyone who seems unnaturally overly friendly and persistent is someone to be cautious about. In today's electronic world, it is relatively easy to vet or conduct a criminal history check on suspicious people you have just met, particularly in the US.

Of course, the lingering question is: Why is this man still in the US? Why should the City of New York pay for his subsistence for the next 20 years?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Parasailing Accident Forces Cruise Lines to Cease Activity

A para-sailing accident on November 15 in the US Virgin Islands has forced several cruise-ship lines to stop offering para-sailing as a line-sponsored shore activity.

As a result, Carnival Cruise Lines has suspended para-sailing excursions only on St. Thomas, where the accident happened. Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and the Norwegian Cruise Line have also suspended para-sailing.

The para-sailing accident occurred when a mother and daughter, 60 and 34, respectively, were participating in a shore excursion while sailing on the Celebrity Eclipse, resulting in the death of the mother and injuries to the daughter, the latter of whom is recovering in a St. Thomas hospital.

The 2,800-passenger vessel departed Miami on November 12, for a seven-night sailing visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

COMMENT: According to USA TODAY, the St. Thomas para-sailing death is the third this year involving North American tourists. In June, a California newlywed was killed and her husband seriously injured off Grand Bahama Island, and a South Carolina resident died off Florida's Longboat Key after the tow boat's propeller failed and the parachute lost buoyancy, plunging him into the water.

Our readers are cautioned that while cruise-line-sponsored shore excursions are not without risks, they are generally far safer than those organized by a handful of passengers. At the same time, cruise-line passengers must realize that safety protocols employed by tour operators abroad are not always compatible those found in developed nations.

American, 60, Killed in Motorcycle Accident in Cozumel

An American tourist, 60, died tragically on Thursday (November 17) after losing her balance while riding a motorcycle in Cozumel's north hotel zone, near the harbor. The accident occurred at roughly 2230 hours. The victim was US citizen Deborah Lee Emery, 60 years old, who was a registered nurse.

COMMENT: Most of our readers that follow my postings know fully well my concern for the frequent motorcycle and motor-bike accidents that occur weekly at tourist destinations all over the world, many of them resulting in fatalities largely because riders had no experience in riding such vehicles or had been drinking or both.

These tragedies will sadly continue until governments in such countries as Mexico, Thailand and countless other countries enact and enforce rigorous traffic regulations aimed at restricting tourists from renting such vehicles unless they have a two-wheel motorized vehicle license from abroad. As for drinking while riding, that number will simply rise due to the preponderance of bad judgment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Overzealous Drug Arrest Results in Compensation for Aussie Carrying Pantene

Australian citizen Neil Parry of Darwin was arrested at Darwin Airport last year and jailed by Australian Customs & Border Protection (ACBP) officers for attempting to smuggle liquid Ecstasy into the country in two bottles of Pantene Pro-V shampoo and conditioner.

Although Parry assured authorities that it was Pantene, he nevertheless spent three days in jail, had his boat searched and two friends also had their homes searched.

COMMENT: Earlier today (November 21) ACBP said in a statement that there were "mistakes made during the presumptive testing of Mr. Parry's goods" and additional procedures have been introduced when conducting drug tests. As a result, Parry has been compensated $100,000 for false arrest, as his persistent claim that he was carrying Pantene proved to be true following lab analysis.

Philip Morris to Sue Australian Government for New Law Requiring Plain Packaging

Global tobacco firm Philip Morris said it is suing the Australian government after Parliament passed a new law requiring all cigarettes to be sold in plain packages. Under the controversial new law, all tobacco products sold in Australia must be in plain packaging from December 1, 2012. The law demands all cigarettes be sold in drab olive-brown packets with large, graphic health warnings.

The government hailed the passage of the law as "one of the most momentous public health measures in Australia's history" and called on the big tobacco companies to accept the will of the Parliament.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, Philip Morris Asia (PMA) contends that the Australian government is unable to demonstrate that the new law will be effective in reducing smoking and has ignored the widespread concerns raised in Australia and abroad regarding the serious legal issues associated with plain packaging.

Hong Kong-based PMA said it is seeking to suspend the legislation and seek substantial compensation for the loss of the company's valuable trademarks and investments in Australia under a bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong. The company expects damages to amount to billions of dollars and that the legal process will take two to three years.

The company will also argue it is unconstitutional for the government to remove its trademarks and other intellectual property without compensation.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

iPad Theft at DFW Underlines Need for Passengers to NOT CHECK High-Value Items

Frederica Williams, 35, of Dallas, was arrested in a police sting operation on Friday (November 18) in Terminal C on suspicion of stealing a US$600 iPad.

In contrast to numerous cases we've cited in recent months where airport employees have stolen high-value items from checked luggage, airport security at DFW in this case left the iPad out as bait.

COMMENT: Williams was one of many people at the airport employed by Prospect Airport Services, a company hired by airlines for a number of baggage and other services, including help with lost-and-found items. Three other people who worked at DFW Airport have been arrested on suspicion of theft in the past 16 months.

Henry Ibarra, a former member of an American Airlines clean-up crew, was arrested in August 2010. Police seized 171 items from his house valued at $7,500. He is accused of stealing items such as iPods, DVD players and cameras off planes and from luggage. Ibarra worked for American for 41 years.

In September 2010, police arrested Denmark Masumoto, an 11-year employee of American Airlines, on suspicion of stealing a passenger's laptop. Police said they found numerous items commonly stolen from travelers' luggage and from planes inside Masumoto's residence.

An American Eagle baggage handler was also arrested on suspicion of stealing jewelry from travelers' luggage in August 2011.

Both novice as well as seasoned air passengers need to be reminded that since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandated shortly after the events of 9/11, that checked luggage be UNLOCKED, theft from checked luggage has increased. Consequently, it is vital that digital camera, MP3 players, smart phones, laptop computers, electronic readers and devices such as iPads NOT be placed into CHECKED luggage.

Ipsos Survey Reveals 90% of Americans Want Focus on Domestic Solutions

According to an Ipsos survey of 18,682 adults in 24 countries, nine out of 10 Americans want domestic economic solutions rather than global, whereas outside the US, eight out of ten respondents wanted to see domestic solutions to their economic woes. The survey results were released on Friday (November 18).

"Most people want their nations to be engaged citizens of the world, but economic pressures prompt people to look inward," said Peter Van Praagh, head of the Halifax International Security Forum, which commissioned the poll.

COMMENT: Economics aside, nearly 80% of all respondents support their governments in their efforts to help countries struck by natural disasters, nurture democracy or punish countries behaving badly by levying sanctions.

Also, 63% of all respondents said they wished for their respective countries to be "a moral leader in the world."

Asked which nation was most likely to have a positive influence in the world, the United States' closest ally and neighbor Canada came out on top -- due to its burgeoning economic confidence.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Update: High Court to Review Evidence in Frenchwoman's Murder on December 12

As a follow-up to my earlier postings on the murder of Frenchwoman Stephanie Foray, 30, forensic and DNA analysis is not yet completed. Hence, the High Court in Kuantan [Malaysia], will review such evidence on December 12.

Foray was murdered in May, allegedly by Asni Omar, 36, in Kampung Tekek, Pulau Tioman, very possibly in conjunction with an attempted rape.

COMMENT: Foray, a civil servant from Bour-en-Bresse, France, arrived in Malaysia on May 5 after touring India and Sri Lanka. She had spent a few nights in Malacca before leaving for Pulau Tioman on May 9.

As the investigation ensued this past summer, Omar was identified as a prime suspect and eventually led police to a cave on the island, where he had buried Foray. If convicted, he will face a mandatory life sentence in prison.

Ms. Foray's family and representatives of the French government will attend the December 12 hearing.

Apparent US Passport Holder Blows Himself Up in Pakistan

Saeed Abdul Salam, a suspected militant who blew himself up in southern Pakistan during a raid by security forces on Thursday (November 17) was reportedly carrying both US and Pakistani passports. He detonated a fragmentation grenade when troops raided his apartment in the port city of Karachi.

COMMENT: Karachi is home to around 18 million people and is the capital of Sindh province. Several al-Qaida and Taliban operatives have been captured or killed there in recent years.

Possession of a US passport does not necessarily mean that Salam was a US citizen, that would have to be confirmed by the US Department of State, and they may or may not want to confirm that.

Yet, for the benefit of our readers, al-Qaeda is known to have altered US passports and it is not beyond the reach of al-Qaeda to have one of its operatives obtain a US passport (or the passport of any nation for that matter) through a fraudulent application.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tourist, 38, Robbed at Knifepoint in Bermuda

A 38-year-old female tourist, nationality unknown, was robbed at knife-point by three young men sometime between 2300 Thursday (November 17) and 0100 (November 18) as she bicycled in the vicinity of Woodlawn Road and Pompano Beach Road, near Southhampton in Bermuda.

The suspects, all in their late teens or early 20s, stole her purse, cash, phone and personal items before escaping. The victim sustained a minor injury which did not require hospital treatment.

COMMENT: As our regular readers will recall, on October 9 I filed a similar posting to the above incident in Bermuda, although that event involved a 51-year-old Canadian tourist who was robbed at roughly 1800 hours.

Travelers are strongly urged against walking or riding a bicycle late at night when alone, as it it common for thieves and robbers to walk the islands at night looking for vulnerable targets.

Our readers are cautioned that robbery with the threat of force is on the rise in many island-states in the Caribbean, including Barbados, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, etc.

Visitors are reminded not to carry their passports with them, but to carry photocopies of the photo pages and the date of entry they entered the island, so as not to lose their passport in the event of loss or theft.

It is strongly suggested that passports be safeguarded in hotel safe deposit boxes. Please remember NOT to use in-room safes.

British Court Clerk Gets Six Years in Prison for Accepting Bribes

Under the new Bribery Act, which went into effect in July, the first person to be convicted under the Act was imprisoned earlier today (November 18).

Munir Patel, 22, a court clerk who worked at Redbridge Magistrates' Court in east London, had pleaded guilty to accepting 500 pounds (US$787.20) to "get rid" of speeding charges by keeping the details off an electronic court database. As a result, he received three years in prison for bribery offenses and six years for misconduct in a public office, with the sentences to run concurrently.

COMMENT: The Bribery Act makes failure to prevent bribery, whether committed by staff, subsidiaries or "associated persons" anywhere in the world, a criminal offense. It also clamps down on so-called "facilitation payments," often used to "grease the hands" of business by speeding up services such as visa applications, and "disproportionate" hospitality.

Patel potentially could have gone away for much more time, considering that he helped at least 53 individuals evade prosecution for driving offenses, and that he had advised people on how to avoid being summoned to court.

Worse, Patel's salary was 17,978 pounds, but the court heard testimony that 53,814 pounds in cash was deposited in his bank account while another 42,383 pounds was transferred into the same account, both without explanation.

Update: US Air Passenger "Forgot" About Handgun in His Carry-on Luggage?

As a follow-up to my recent posting on the arrest of US citizen Steven Lee Burditt, 46, who was arrested at Ezeiza International Airport [Buenos Aires] earlier this week with a .380 caliber pistol in his carry-on luggage, claimed that he had "forgotten" the gun in his luggage and traveled with it to Argentina via Houston undetected by US Customs and Border officials’ "rigorous" pre-boarding security screening.

Burditt’s Argentine defense lawyer, Carlos Villegas, told the Buenos Aires Herald that his client had placed the legally owned firearm in a “secret compartment” in his hand luggage at home in the US. The suspect then flew to Argentina from Houston for business purposes on November 8, passing through US customs and security officials who failed to uncover the Colt .380 along with two clips of ammunition.

Nevertheless, last Sunday (November 13) airport security personnel at Ezeiza International Airport identified the firearm and ammunition in his hand luggage during x-ray screening when the Texas resident was attempting to return to Houston on an Air Continental flight.

COMMENT: Forgive my skepticism, but any relatively intelligent, seasoned international traveler knows whether or not they have a firearm and ammunition in their carry-on, particularly given the times we live in. As is often said, "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Hence, a slap on the hand in either Buenos Aires or Houston seems hardly enough to ensure that this adult does not repeat the offense.

Burditt actually told the judge in Buenos Aires that he could provide the serial number and legal paperwork of his firearm. That statement alone suggests that the American is accusing the judge of being very naive, which is clearly not the case.

As I said a few days ago, it is essential that air travelers go through their carry-on luggage thoroughly EVERY time they plan to travel to ensure that there are no Swiss Army knives, nail-clippers or GUNS. Clearly, Burditt does not see this as a "big deal," and should be fined US$1,000 and be banned from flying to Argentina for a year because of his "lapse in memory."

As for TSA in Houston, one would think that they, too, need to have a fireside chat with Burditt, who obviously believes that anyone is going to buy his story of forgetting that he had a handgun and ammo in his carry-0n. Hopefully, they will meet him at international arrivals in Houston with the welcome wagon.

US Peace Corps To Pull Out of Kazakhstan

The US Embassy in Almaty [Kazakhstan] announced earlier today (November 18) that the US Peace Corps is terminating its operations in the Central Asian nation. The Peace Corps has been in Kazakhstan since shortly after the former Soviet country gained independence in 1991. Currently, there are 121 PC volunteers Kazakhstan.

COMMENT: The US made no announcement as to why the Peace Corps was leaving the country, although a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) was reportedly raped earlier this month. PCVs continue to assert that the PC does not provide adequate security to its volunteers, which is true.

An Islamic suicide-bomber killed seven people and blew himself up in the southern city of Taraz on Saturday (November 12), the latest in a series of attacks in the oil-producing state.

Kazakhstan, four times the size of Texas, is a predominantly Muslim country of 16.6 million people. The oil-producing country, Central Asia's largest economy, has seen an unprecedented spate of militant attacks this year.

There are also rumors that USAID, the Department of State's foreign assistance arm, may also be ending its operations in Kazakhstan.

As the US government prepares to drastically trim the unprecedented US$15 trillion budget deficit, it is also entirely possible that reducing government staffing at US embassies is one way of cutting costs.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

San Diego Residents Escape Attempted Kidnapping in Tijuana

Two San Diego [National City] women, both sisters, are safely back home, after an attempted kidnapping in Tijuana on Monday (November 14), when the sisters' father asked them to go across the border and collect rent from a tenant that was renting the family home at Mariano Matamotos.

Upon arriving at the their house in TJ, Tina Hernandez dropped off her sister and two family friends who went into the house to collect the monthly rent from the two tenants. Thirty-seconds later, Hernandez heard her sister scream, at which point Hernandez drove around the corner and called Tijuana police. Once the police arrived, they discovered that several gunmen had tied up Hernandez' sister, her friends and the renters.

COMMENT: What Hernandez and the police were unaware of, though, was that the renters had masterminded an extortion scheme to force her sister and their two friends to pay money to the tenants. Police subsequently arrested the tenants and other co-conspirators, enabling Hernandez and her sister to return to San Diego with the agreement that they would testify against those arrested.

Extortion is a common scam along the border, along with cross-border kidnappings on both sides, particularly in California, Arizona and Texas.

It is strongly recommended that anyone crossing the US-Mexican border frequently should be cautious of kidnapping and extortion schemes. In particularly, potential targets should have their last will and testament, advance medical directive and power of attorney in place; carry a copy of their blood type and a list of medications in their wallet; have local police numbers on both sides of the border types into a cell-phone speed-dialer; have an ATM card with at least a $200 balance; and know NOT to resist a kidnapping attempt, particularly if firearms are used by criminals.