Saturday, December 31, 2011

Guatemalan Judge Survives Assassination Attempt by Gunmen in Two Vehicles

Guatemalan Judge Jose Eduardo Cojulum was wounded on Friday (December 30) when gunmen traveling in two vehicles fired simultaneously at the judge's vehicle. The incident occurred on the Palin-Escuintla highway in southern Guatemala.

COMMENT: Judge Cojulum said in a telephone interview with a radio station that the attackers followed him for more than 30 minutes before they started shooting and then fled after he rammed one of their vehicles. Speaking from a hospital, he rejected the notion that his assailants were common criminals.

Conversely, the judge, who is presiding over several cases related to human rights violations by the armed forces during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, firmly believes that these cases are the motivation behind the attack on him. The judge no doubt in correct in his instinct, particularly considering that well over 200,000 people were killed during the civil war, most of them disadvantaged poor.

It should be noted that many former senior military and police officials were implicated in human rights violations during the war, all of whom have a lot of motive to stop judicial reviews. Although the judge obviously has had training in countering vehicular attacks, the Government of Guatemala should promptly assign an experienced security detail to the judge on a 24/7 basis.

Cyclone Thane Kills 42 in Southern India

Cyclone Thane, which hit southern India on Friday (December 30) with winds reaching 140 kilometers an hour (85 miles an hour), has reportedly killed 42 people, including a French national, as engineers rushed to restore power supplies knocked out by the gale.

COMMENT: India and Bangladesh are regularly hit by fierce cyclones in the Bay of Bengal between April and November, causing major damage. Most injuries and death are attributed to cases of electrocution and building collapses. In 2009, Cyclone Aila tore through southern Bangladesh killing 300 people and destroyed 4,000 kilometres of roads and river embankments, leading to major flooding. India saw its worst cyclone in 1977, when more than 100,000 people were killed.

Refueling Retaliation May Have Impact on Airworthiness of Iranian Airlines

Iran is refusing to refuel some European and Arab airlines at its international airport in Tehran in retaliation against major oil companies that are reportedly denying aviation fuel to Iranian commercial aircraft abroad. AFP could not immediately determine which carriers are affected.

In October, Iran's foreign ministry warned it would "confront" Western companies for refusing to refuel its planes in Europe, which it called a violation of international law.

COMMENT: Some airports in the Gulf and southwestern Asia are apparently refusing to refuel Iranian airliners, including its flag carrier, Iran Air, as well as leading non-governmental airline, Mahan Air. Iran Air has been under US sanctions since 1995, that have prevented any sale of Boeing or Airbus aircraft or spare parts. As a result, the airline has become one of the most poorly maintained airlines in the world.

Mahan Air was put on the US sanctions list in October 2011, for allegedly transporting members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, some senior officers of which are on a US travel blacklist.

Update: 14,000 Tons of Rice Seized from Jailed American Businessman to be Sold

As a follow-up to my September 24 posting ("Legal Trouble for American Businessman in Bolivia Caused by a Lack of Due Diligence"), the Government of Bolivia announced yesterday (December 30) that it plans to sell 13,000 metric tons (14,000 tons) seized from a jailed American businessman months ago.

US citizen Jacob Ostreicher has been jailed without being formally charged since June 2011 in connection with a money-laundering investigation. Ostreicher, who runs a New York City flooring business, insists that he went to Bolivia to salvage a rice-growing investment after the local manager he had hired defrauded investors and planted some of their rice on land owned by the brother of a Brazilian drug trafficker.

Prosecutors allege that the US$25 million invested in the rice venture was obtained illegally. Ostreicher maintains he is innocent.

COMMENT: A Bolivian agency in charge of liquidating seized goods has said that the rice will be sold in mid-January so it doesn't go bad. The proceeds will reportedly be put in an escrow account for Ostreicher until his case has been resolved. The sale of the rice is expected to bring in more than US$1 million.

Ostreicher's attorney, Jerjes Justiniano, has characterized the sale as illegal, saying the authorities had not notified him of the plan or given him an opportunity to appeal.

There were conflicting accounts of how much rice was seized. Justiniano said the authorities had held about 18,000 metric tons (20,000 tons) — or about 5,000 metric tons (5,500 tons) more than the amount cited by officials.

Ostreicher's unusually lengthy detention has prompted US officials to intercede on his behalf with senior Bolivian officials. A Bolivian human rights groups also supports him, accusing prosecutors of violating established legal principles.

A judge in September ordered Ostreicher's release on bail, then six days later revoked that decision. His next court hearing is scheduled for next week.

Also jailed in connection with the money laundering investigation is Claudia Liliana Rodriguez, of Colombia, who had worked as the local manager in the rice-growing investment. Ostreicher and a Swiss associate, Andre Zolty, had entrusted the venture to Rodriguez, but now accuse her of stealing millions of dollars from them.

As I said in my September posting, Ostreicher failed to conduct adequate due diligence on the business venture from the very beginning; from all indications he did not seek out the assistance from the US Department of Commerce's staff at the US Embassy in La Paz or US-based legal advice before embarking on the plan. Doing so might well have prevented the predicament in which Ostreicher finds himself.

To make matters worse, bi-lateral relations between the US and Bolivia are not good, which also limits the efforts of the US Department of State to intercede on Ostreicher's behalf.

A final thought. Ostreicher never should have traveled to Bolivia without talking first to the US Department of State, US Department of Commerce and independent legal counsel experienced in Bolivian law and business practices.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dutchwoman, 18, Allegedly Raped in Mumbai

Police in Mumbai have reportedly arrested one of two suspects involved in the alleged rape of a Dutchwoman, 18, at a secluded spot on December 26. Rajpati Baburam Nishat, 22, a resident of Nalasopara, was arrested in recent days, although the rickshaw driver is seemingly still at large. Sketches of the two accused were prepared after the victim registered a complaint and narrated the experience with descriptions of the two suspects. Police have also traced the mobile phone that the two suspects had stolen from the victim after they assaulted her.

COMMENT: Nishat has already confessed to the crime, although he refuses to implicate the other suspect.

The victim had traveled to Mumbai on a tourist visa of six months, having completed her schooling in the Netherlands.

According to the victim’s statement to the police, at roughly 0100 hours on December 26, she and her friend took a rickshaw from Vasai and reached the Dahisar check post. From there, they took another rickshaw, but her friend got off at Kandivali, while she went towards Mulund alone. She asked the auto driver to take her through the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. Minutes later, the rickshaw driver stopped for a friend. Shortly thereafter, the two men, despite protests from the woman, took her to an isolated area where they allegedly raped her.

Several good questions come to mind in this case: Why did this young Dutchwoman travel half way around the world alone? Why did she not travel with a friend? How was she intending to support herself, unless, of course, she is independently wealthy? Why was she out alone late at night in Mumbai, with little real-world experience? Why did she not take a hotel taxi at the time of night, which would have been much safer and reliable? Also, rickshaw drivers in any country are not necessarily the salt of the earth. Many are unsavory, opportunistic, have criminal backgrounds, always argue over fares and are not good folks to be around with late at night.

A final thought. Foreign women have been targeted by rapists for years in India; case studies are virtually endless.

Indeed, the victim in this case appeared to have zero knowledge in security awareness, which her parents should have taught her.

Hopefully, the victim's assailants will be brought to justice and hopefully this young woman will learn how to keep herself safe during the rest of her time in India.

Foreign Tourists Robbed by Gunmen in Pisco

Early on December 29, four masked gunmen in a station wagon overtook a tour bus of Peruvian, Brazilian and Italian tourists who were destined to the National Reserve of Paracas in Pisco, Ica region, located some 220 kilometers southwest of the capital of Lima. Pisco is often referred to as "the Galapagos Islands for the poor," where vibrant bird and marine life can be seen in their natural habitat.

Once the station wagon converged on the bus, the gunmen brandished their weapons at the tourists and directed the bus driver to an isolated area, where the some sixteen tourists were robbed of their cash, possessions, cameras and valuables.

COMMENT: Hold-ups of buses and cars are a common occurrence in rural Peru, which is one reason why tour operators should consider requesting a police escort in such areas or contracting for competent armed security.

For tourists traveling to such areas, they should carry nothing on their person that cannot be replaced.

Acapulco Cops Who Robbed Canadian Tourist Sacked

Every now and then there is evidence that the Mexican police system has hope of improving. This is one of those cases, particularly given the dramatic rise of violence in Acapulco.

On Wednesday (December 28), a Canadian tourist filed a complaint with police in the city that he had been robbed of 300 pesos (equivalent to 22 dollars Canadian). Not only did the police service investigate the allegation, but the two police officers involved were terminated. Subsequently, the money was returned to the Canadian visitor, who has since returned to Canada.

COMMENT: It should also be noted that tourists in Mexico are not only being urged to file complaints if they have been victimized, but Acapulco Mayor Manuel Alnorve Balnos has indicated that he will not tolerate misconduct on the part of any public employee.

Unfortunately, many foreign travelers never file a complaint when they've been victimized by criminals or cops, but they should, otherwise change will never occur. Plus, without a police report, it is difficult to liquidate an insurance claim.

If travelers encounter resistance or language problems in their effort to file a complaint or obtain a police report, they should promptly contact their embassy or consulate for consular assistance.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chilean Court Concludes that Salvador Allende Died from his Own Hand

Chilean Judge Mario Carroza, after convening an international panel of experts and conducting an authoritative autopsy, has concluded that the late President Salvador Allende took his own life, with an AK-47 assault rifle, while defending the presidential palace in the country's 1973 coup.

Carroza ruled out the possibility that a soldier or bodyguard killed the late president. He also disproved a range of other myths surrounding Allende's death 38 years ago.

COMMENT: Allende was among 726 people who died or disappeared when General Augusto Pinochet seized power, and whose cases were processed through the courts since then. Carroza is reviewing these cases under a new mandate from the Supreme Court.

It should be noted that over time that the Allende Family, including sitting Senator Maria Isabel Allende Bussi, 66, has come to support the theory, now fact, that President Allende shot himself, reportedly with a rifle presented to him by Fidel Castro.

Celebrated Chilean writer Isabel Allende is Senator Allende's second cousin.

Safest, Most Dangerous Islands in the Caribbean

For the benefit of our readers, we're passing along a useful link on the safest and most dangerous islands in the Caribbean from IBT:

Brazil Overtakes the UK as World's Sixth Largest Economy

According to AFP, Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth largest economy, based upon data released by London's Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) on Monday (December 26). The CEBR also said that Asian countries are rising in the group's World Economic League Table, while European nations are declining.

COMMENT: The CEBR also predicted that the British economy would overtake France, ranked fifth this year, by 2016 and it said India, the world's 10th biggest economy in 2011, would move up to fifth place by 2020. Currently, the US economy is the largest, followed by China, Japan and Germany.

UK Abolishes Animal Quarantine for Many Countries

Pet owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief beginning January 1, 2012, when the UK will end its historic mandatory six-month quarantine on dogs and cats that enter the country, a requirement that goes back to the 19th Century.

Consequently, animals from the EU and such countries as the US and Australia will only need proof of a rabies vaccination given 21 days before to enter the UK quarantine-free.

COMMENT: Pets coming in from unlisted countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa will also need to have been vaccinated and take a blood test, but the subsequent quarantine has been reduced to three months.

For further details and to obtain a pdf copy of the UK's new regulations concerning pets entering the UK, please go to:

Australia's DFAT Issues Country Updates

For the benefit of our readers, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has recently updated its travel advice for the following effective December 22:

  • Saint Lucia
  • Nigeria
  • Latvia
  • Estonia
  • Malaysia
  • Chile
  • Iraq

Cayman Youth Sentenced to 16 Months In Prison for Robbery of Tourist Couple

Michael Travis McLaughlin, 19, was sentenced to sixteen months imprisonment earlier today (December 29), after pleading guilty to the robbery of two tourists at Barefoot Beach in East End on February 7.

A police report issued shortly after the incident indicated two tourists, a man and his wife, had gone to the area to snorkel, parking their rental car in a pathway off the Queens Highway next to Barefoot Beach. A short time later, as they sat on the beach they were suddenly confronted by three men, one of which was McLaughlin. Two of the assailants were armed with a baseball bat and brass knuckles.

Police said one of the men grabbed the husband, placed him in a headlock and demanded cash. The victims then handed over a wallet containing a small sum of cash. As the three were leaving, one smashed the window of the couple’s car with the baseball bat and stole a camera.

COMMENT: The only identifying evidence of substance was a statement made by a person now deceased, Asher McGaw, 21, of East End. Unfortunately, McGaw was fatally shot in September, although he did execute a witness statement on March 2. Nevertheless, one of the justices presiding during the trial ruled the statement was admissible, even though McGaw had a reputation as a street criminal. As a result, the justices discharged the complaints against Cody and Trent.

Violent crime in the Caymans is not a common occurrence, although it does occur. Nevertheless, visitors to all of the islands in the Caribbean are urged to be aware of people observing them and to take appropriate action. As I have said in previous postings, resisting a violent crime is strongly discouraged, particularly when there are multiple assailants.

As our readers can see in this case, lengthy prisons sentences for armed robbery are rare in the Caribbean, which is why there is so much recidivism.

Update: Arrests Made in Murder of Indian Grad Student in UK

As a follow-up to my recent posting on the unprovoked murder of Anuj Bidve, a 23-year-old Indian micro-electronics graduate student, who was shot in the head at close range and killed on Boxing Day in Manchester, British police arrested a fifth suspect earlier today (December 29).

COMMENT: Thus far, the suspects, most of them teenagers as young as sixteen, are being held in the death of Bidve, although Bidve's assailant was twenty years of age.

Police have not released the dialogue that was exchanged between the assailant and the victim, although presumably police have already interviewed Bidve's friends he had been walking with.

Bidve was from the western Indian city of Pune, Maharashtra. His family is in the process of flying to Manchester to take his body back to India.

Although none of us should be deterred from living life to it fullest and being where we want to be, it is a fact that people who prey on others do so between 2300 and 0600 hours so as to conceal their activities. Hence, staying off the streets during these hours is a prudent thing to do.

From all indications, Bidve's murder might well have stemmed from a dispute between the assailant and Bidve or possibly a hate-crime.

We'll keep our readers abreast of developments in this case as information becomes available.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UAE: Dubai Police Officer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Rape of Japanese Tourist

The 24-year-old Japanese woman who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, raped and threatened with death by an active duty Dubai police officer was recently sentenced to life in prison, although the chief prosecutor has asked the court to implement the death penalty if the officer was convicted.

The incident occurred in March 2011, in Hatta, although the officer was not arrested until August.

COMMENT: The Dubai police service is to be commended for its objectivity in the handling of this case. The victim, an artist, drew a sketch of her assailant, that resulted in identification of the officer. He was then ordered to submit to DNA analysis which confirmed that he was her assailant.

The perpetrator offered the victim a ride in his SUV to show her local tourist attractions. Instead, he drove her into the desert where he threatened her with death and slapped her if she refused his advances. After being raped, the woman wisely reported the matter to the Japanese Consulate.

Japanese Tourist, 34, Robbed in Saipan

A female Japanese tourist, 34, was robbed by an unidentified assailant who suddenly pulled up next to her in a vehicle at approximately 0645 hours on Tuesday (December 27) as she was walking along Chalan Pale Arnold Road near Palms Resort Saipan in San Roque. Although the assailant did not harm the victim, his sudden action caused her to fall down.

COMMENT: Now, here's the interesting part: The victim was carrying a Gucci purse which contained $500 in cash and a dive watch. One would hope that travelers and tourists would not be so flashy as to carry a high-end purse, or potentially a "knock-off" that resembles a Gucci purse. The same effect would occur if one were wearing a Rolex watch or a counterfeit Rolex. And, why carry so much cash, when ATMs are readily available?

Last November 16, a female Japanese tourist was dragged several meters by a car when she chased a robber who had grabbed her bag along Beach Road in Garapan, also in Saipan. The victim in that case sustained bruises and scratches on her left arm, fingers, and right knee. After a week, police arrested the suspect, Gustavo Meme Ybanez Jr. A few days later, police also arrested Ybanez's cousin, Oscar Porras, Jr., the alleged driver of the getaway vehicle.

Last June 24, a 70-year-old Korean businessman sustained serious injuries when an unidentified man attacked him with a hammer and robbed him in western Garapan.

And, on October 11, an unidentified suspect armed with a screwdriver robbed a Russian female tourist and took off in her rented car at Suicide Cliff in Marpi. The tourist lost her bag containing over $100 cash, a digital camera, hotel keys, some documents, and other items. The victim had bruises on her elbows after she fell to the ground during the struggle. No one has been arrested yet.

American Citizen Could Face Death Penalty for Alleged Spying in Iran

Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, a native-born US citizen whose father is Iranian, appeared in a closed court hearing earlier this week and heard the prosecution ask for capital punishment, stemming from Hekmati's being charged of working for the CIA. Hekmati's attorney has denied the charges.

COMMENT: Hekmati, who was born in Arizona, was arrested while in Iran during a visit to see his grandmother. Because of his family heritage, Hekmati is considered to be Iranian. Iran charges that as a US Marine, Hekmati received special training and served at US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

It is unwise for US citizens of Iranian heritage to travel to Iran for any reason, given the high tensions between the two governments.

Expats, Travelers, Tenants Urged to Ask Questions About Elevator Security

As a result of the death of an expatriate in a building in Saudi Arabia early in December 2011, The Arab News ( has drawn attention to the importance of elevator maintenance and the need for building owners to check the safety of elevators. Unfortunately, there are commercial and residential building owners, less so with major hotels, who are unwilling to devote the necessary funding for regular elevator maintenance.

For the benefit of our readers, the link to the Arab News' article on elevator security is reflected below:

COMMENT: Although most developed nations have long-standing enacted laws and regulations that require the mandatory maintenance of elevators and "lifts" in high-occupancy and high-rise buildings, be they commercial or residential properties, "The Arab News" piece on December 7, should cause all of us to consider the the risk impact of landlords and property owners who cut corners on maintenance, particularly if they don't use the property.

Unfortunately, elevator injuries and deaths are normally not front-page news, but they do happen, and primarily in developing countries.

For our readers who live abroad, particularly in developing countries where laws mandating the regular maintenance and inspection of elevators are elusive, here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Before renting commercial or residential space, ask prospective landlords to review their maintenance contract for their elevators. If they give you a "deer in the headlights look" after you ask that question, walk, don't run.

2. If local power is interrupted, are there emergency lights in common areas so occupants don't have to grope around in the dark? If not, leave the building before power is interrupted.

3. After asking to see the maintenance contract, ask to see their emergency generator. If they don't have one for common area lights, look elsewhere.

4. Next, see if the building you're looking at has a fire detection system connected to the local fire department. If not, is there at least a local alarm system that can be activated by anyone observing a fire or smoke? If the answer to the last question is "no," look further.

5. Is there a sprinkler system installed in the building? If not, understand that sprinkler systems are not commonplace in many developing countries, but they're sure nice to have.

6. If there are external stairwells in the building for evacuating a building fire, are they designed in such a way as to preclude they're being filled with smoke during egress? If the answer is no, don't rent on any floor that does not enable you to reach the ground floor on one breath.

7. Is there an emergency phone in all elevators to a 24/7 operator? If not, look further.

8. Does the building have posted signs directing occupants how to leave the building during an emergency? If not, look further.

9. Is there a sign in each elevator reflecting when the elevator was last inspected by a certified technician? Look further.

Update: Abu Sayyaf Demands $22,600 for Release of Warren Rodwell

Reportedly, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the southern Philippines has sent four photos of Australian citizen Warren Rodwell, 53, to his Filipina wife, Miraflor Gutang, 27, and a monetary demand of US$22,837 via text. The result was that Gutang has said she cannot afford to pay the ransom, although she remains in police protective custody for security reasons.

Rodwell is being held on the southern island of Basilan, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, which is led by Puruji Indama, a notorious terrorist commander blamed for a spate of bombings, kidnappings and be-headings. Up to 2000 soldiers are searching the island for Rodwell, who was kidnapped by four gunmen posing as police officers on December 5.

COMMENT: This is a familiar story with different names and dates. An aging foreigner with perceptions of grandeur meets an attractive, 20-something local girl in a high-risk rural area in a developing country on the Internet and quickly marries her. The foreigner blows off offers of police protection due to the local kidnap threat and instead buys a pistol to protect himself from a large number of experienced kidnappers armed with assault rifles. The result is that the foreigner contributes to his plight by resisting a kidnapping and being shot in the process. Nevertheless, he is taken away by Abu Sayaaf, the same group that sank the Super Ferry 14 in 2004, the deadliest maritime act of terrorism in the world on record.

All and all, Rodwell's situation is somewhat victim-precipitated: He chose to live in high-threat kidnap environment; he obviously ignored the security advice of his own government; he ignored offers of police protection; and imprudently concluded that his overconfidence in procuring a pistol would save the day. Wrong on all counts.

Consequently, Abu Sayyaf, although dwindling in numbers, is a group not to be scoffed at. They have killed and beheaded foreigners in the past and are capable of doing it again. Unfortunately for Rodwell, despite his impressive-sounding profile on social media sites, he obviously is not a person of means.

Normally, when a foreigner is kidnapped in a developing country, and the victim does not have the required funds, family and friends back home end up "passing a hat" in order to collect the required ransom payment. Not knowing how generous Rodwell's family and friends are, this process could take time. On the other hand, foreign governments are not keen on their national paying ransom because it results in sustenance for kidnap gangs. Unless a ransom is paid, and soon, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Abu Sayyaf might remove a couple of fingers or toes to demonstrate their vigor and convince the governments of the Philippines and Australian that they are serious-minded.

Update: More Arrests in Murder of Briton, Injury of his Russian Companion

As a follow-up to my December 26 posting, the Karapitiya Hospital in Sri Lanka reports that Victoria Alexandrovna, 23, the Russian companion of British national Khuram Shaikh Zaman, 32 (who was killed when the two were physically attacked by a local politician and others) has been transferred to a private hospital in Colombo at the request of her family.

The Sri Lanka Tourist Board has assisted Alexandrovna, who underwent a minor surgery at Karapitiya Hospital in Galle. Her condition has been downgraded to stable.

COMMENT: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered an investigation into the killing of Zaman and Alexandrovnathe by a gang of thugs led by the chairman of the local government Pradeshiya Sabha of Tangalle. Additionally, Sampath Chandra Pushpa Vidanapathirana, 24, the chairman of Tangalle village council, and three others have been arrested. According to local police, the suspects were heavily intoxicated and converged on the victims at which point an argument ensued.

Alexandrovna was injured while trying to save her companion from the attack.

As in this case, there are times when a physical confrontation is provoked by others. When this occurs, it is wise to simply leave the scene of the altercation, rather than having it escalate further. From all indications, the assailants began bothering Zaman and Alexandrovna, at which point it might have been best for them to simply have left, if they could, and asked the resort's management to contact local police.

Canadian Woman Killed in Bus Crash Near Cusco

Margaret Pidlaski, a Canadian woman in her 50s, died on Friday (December 23) from injuries sustained in a tour bus crash while traveling near Cusco, in Peru. According to local media, an American also died in the accident and some 20 other passengers were injured. The bus, run by the tourist transport company, Tour Peru, was en route from Puno to Cusco with about 50 people on board when it crashed. Speed and wet roads from rainfall in the region may have played a role.

COMMENT: Ironically, Pidlaski survived a deadly bus crash in Mexico in the mid-80s, that left her with severe injuries that took over a year to recover from. After her recovery she went to China following the Tiananmen Square massacre and taught English as a foreign language specialist throughout China.

Pidlaski was the director of adult English-language programs for the Manitoba government's Labor and Immigration Department.

As I have commented all too often in the past, bus travel in developing countries is always a risk. Although tour buses are a cost-effective means of moving large numbers of tourists around, driver training and competency is always questionable. Increasingly, I have been urging clients to alternatively consider the use of a convoy of several smaller passenger vehicles, particularly considering the poor maneuverability of large tour buses on poorly maintained and narrow rural roadways.

Local Tourist Robbed After Being Injected with a Syringe in Australia's Sunshine Coast

A local tourist will be subjected to months of blood tests to determine if he has been infected with a disease after he was stabbed with a syringe in a daylight robbery in Noosa in the Shire of Noosa, located about 130 kilometers (81 miles) north of Brisbane in the Sunshine Coast region of South East Queensland, Australia.

The victim, a man of 31 years of age, was taking his bicycle out of the back of his car when the thief demanded his backpack and cell-phone from him. When the cyclist briefly resisted, the assailant stabbed the victim in the stomach and fled. The crime occurred at roughly 1300 on Monday (December 26). Police are searching for the assailant, who was described as a man in his 40s.

COMMENT: It is unknown at the moment as whether the syringe contained any harmful material, which is why the victim will undergo months of testing. Syringes have been used in the past as a threatening weapon, but it is rare.

As I have commented in the past, no matter where we are on a given day, it is prudent to be aware of people around you at all times, as the world is increasingly perilous and vigilance is essential at all times.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Indian Graduate Student Shot, Killed in Unprovoked Attack Near Manchester

Anuj Bidve, 23, an Indian graduate student who was majoring in micro-electronics at Lancaster University, 40 miles from Manchester, was shot and killed during the early morning hours of December 26, as he walked with friends from his hotel in Salford, an area to the west of Manchester.

COMMENT: At this point, local police are looking at all possible motives, including a hate crime. The group was stopped by an unidentified man who spoke to them briefly before shooting Bidve at close range.

Although police have appealed to the assailant to turn himself in, this is very unlikely.
The motives in this case could well be endless, given the lack of information available.

We will update our readers on this attack as information becomes available.

British National Killed Following Argument in Sri Lanka, Companion Injured

Kuram Shaikah Zaman, a British national, and his companion, Victoria Alexandrovna, 23, reportedly got into an argument with at least three Sri Lankans at a resort in Tangalle (about 100 miles south of Colombo), resulting in the death of Zaman and injuries to Alexandrovna. The altercation occurred during the early morning hours of December 25.
While two of the suspects were thought to have been directly connected to the assault, the third man had been arrested for providing a vehicle for the attackers. All three are in police custody.

COMMENT: A post-mortem examination revealed that Zaman had been attacked by a sharp weapon and shot by a firearm as well. Alexandrovna is being treated in Karapitiya Hospital in Galle.
Hoteliers in Tangalle have reported that following the incident, a number of foreign tourists have left the resort.
Although few facts are available at this time, it is generally prudent for travelers and tourists to avoid getting into arguments if at all possible or simply walk away from an altercation if possible. Otherwise, visitor should ask the establishment in which the argument is taking place to summon police promptly before the argument escalates into assault.
This case will be updated as information becomes available.

Tourists Killed, Injured Enroute to Mumbai Airport, Excessive Speed Blamed

According to local police, six people, including four tourists, were killed and 13 others suffered injuries when a mini-bus driver exceeding the speed limit drove 17 tourists looking forward to a excursion of trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to Mumbai Airport tore through the divider of the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and rammed into a loaded truck coming from opposite direction near Lonavla on Saturday night (December 24).

The mini-bus was scheduled to leave for Mumbai at 2130, but was delayed in departing for some two hours, which could have been attributed to the driver's excessive speed.

COMMENT: Following the accident, Mumbai-based travel agency, Girikand Travels, has denied the charges of speeding and maintained that the driver was experienced and there was no reason to suspect his skills. Nevertheless, police investigators are continuing to interview survivors and witnesses.

Sadly, as I have said all too many times, bus accidents occur with far too much regularity worldwide, which is why I often suggest taxis rather than tour buses. Logic would suggest that if the bus was scheduled to leave for the airport at 2130, and it did not, many travelers would decide alternatively to take a local or hotel taxi.

Tourist Violently Raped, Injured in Guam

As many of our readers may recall, I recently filed a posting on the fact that there is a much greater incidence per capita in Guam than in any of the US states. In this regard, Johnathan James Acfalle Perez, 19, A tour boat deckhand who allegedly raped a tourist violently, leaving her with severe injuries in November, is being held on $10,000 cash bail after being arrested recently by police.

According to court records, Perez allegedly raped the woman on the beach near the Santa Fe Bar and Grille. The victim, whose nationality has not been released, tried to push Perez away during the alleged rape, but he was too heavy and strong.

The tourist had met Perez earlier in the day of the attack, during a voyage of the Big Barbecue Cruise Boat. The cruise was arranged by her hotel. Perez worked on the boat; other employees of the boat were able to identify him for police who were investigating the alleged rape.

COMMENT: After the alleged rape, the tourist was examined at Healing Hearts Rape Crisis Center, where she was examined by Dr. Ellen Bez, a medical consultant, who later commented that the victim's injuries were the worst she had seen in her 20 years of experience.

Perez has been charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct as a first-degree felony and third-degree criminal sexual conduct as a second-degree felony.

Visitors to Guam are reminded to take precautions while there, which should include not placing oneself in a vulnerable situation with new acquaintances and walking alone at night.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Retired US Marine Stabbed to Death by Burglars in Manila

Retired US Marine James Thomas Kakara, 61, was beaten to death with a metal pipe by burglars in his Manila home on Christmas Eve (December 24).

Police on Monday (December 26) said that Kakara was alone in his home
in the resort town of Tagaytay at the time of the attack, as his Filipino wife and her daughter had left to spend Christmas Eve with her family nearby. They found his body the following morning.

COMMENT: After killing Kakara, the burglars stole roughly US$6,000, a cellphone and a laptop computer. The victim had lived in the Philippines for roughly four years and was working as a consultant for a US security company.

For the benefit of our readers, and particularly given the high crime rate in Manila, it is essential that expats rely on a high degree of physical and electronic security in their homes and have a secured safe-room to which they can seek refuge in the event of a break-in by burglars that are prepared to hurt or kill residents.

Japanese Tourists Drugged, Robbed in Bangkok

Two Filipinos were arrested for allegedly drugging several tourists to steal their valuables at various Bangkok tourist attractions on Friday (December 23), following complaints filed by Japanese tourists that they were drugged and robbed by Filipinos at the Chatuchak Market.

Consequently, Carren Dizon Dolorito, 29, and Bernabe Mark Jerald Carreon, 22, were identified in photos by victims and were arrested later on Friday in the possession of ten tablets of Alprazolam (trade name Xanax, a short-acting anxiolytic of the benzodiazepine class of psychoactive drugs). Xanax also possesses anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, skeletal muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant, and amnestic properties.

COMMENT: Although Xanax is very effective as a sedative, typically most criminals rely more frequently on many of the date-rape drugs to neutralize their victims so that they can be robbed or victimized in a number of ways. Those of our readers who are new to should browse my latest postings on the use of date-rape drugs.

Police later searched the homes of the suspects which yielded a number of stolen valuables. Additionally, the suspects admitted to befriending Japanese tourists into playing cards before drugging them and stealing their possessions.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Three Americans Killed in Bus Accident in Mexico

Three US citizens traveling to spend the holidays with their relatives in Mexico were among those killed in a spree of shooting attacks on buses in northern Mexico on Thursday (December 22). Specifically, a group of five gunmen attacked three buses in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz, killing a total of seven passengers in what authorities said appeared to be a violent robbery spree.

The Americans included a mother and her two daughters who were returning to visit relatives in the region, known as the Huasteca, said an official in the neighboring state of Hidalgo, where the mother was born.

COMMENT: Hidalgo state regional assistant secretary Jorge Rocha identified the dead Americans as Maria Sanchez Hernandez, 39, of Fort Worth, TX, and her daughters, Karla, 19, and Cristina, 13. Rocha said all three held dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. A 14-year-old Mexican nephew traveling with the three was also killed. Three other Mexican citizens were killed in the attacks on the three buses.

Fortunately, the five gunmen who allegedly carried out the bus attacks were later shot and killed by Mexican soldiers.

The US Consulate General in Matamoros has urged Americans to exercise caution when traveling in Veracruz and to "avoid intercity road travel at night."

This tragedy is a chilling reminder of the risks travelers face when traveling by bus not only in Mexico, but throughout Central America.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Adults Between the Ages of 19-59 Who Have Diabetes Should Obtain Hepatitis B Vaccine

The Hepatitis B vaccination is now recommended for all adults who have not Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, says the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The vaccination should be administered as soon as possible after adults in this age group are diagnosed with diabetes. Those adults with diabetes who are older than 59 can receive hepatitis B vaccination at the discretion of their doctor, the ACIP advises.

COMMENT: The recommendations are outlined in the December 23 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 700,000 and 1.4 million people in the US are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Chronic HBV infection damages the liver and can lead to serious illness and death. More than 15% of adults with chronic HBV infection develop cirrhosis and liver cancer, the authors of the report noted.

People with diabetes are at increased risk for HBV infection, which can occur through exposure to small, even invisible, amounts of blood from an infected person who earlier used a shared medical or glucose-monitoring device. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body and is easily transmitted. This means that virus transmission can occur if finger-stick devices or blood glucose monitors meant for one person are used by more than one person without appropriate cleaning or infection control measures.

US Peace Corps to Pull Out of Honduras, Citing Security Concerns

Honduran officials on Friday (December 23) took issue with a US decision to pull 158 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) out of the country in January for security reasons. Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales said he believes the situation is temporary as Honduras works to restore peace and security in a country notorious for having the highest homicide rate in the world.

COMMENT: The government reaction came two days after the US announced it is also suspending training for new PCVs in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and bringing home 158 volunteers from Honduras. The current volunteers will remain in the other two countries.

A recent UN report said Honduras and El Salvador have the highest homicide rates in the world with 82.1 and 66 per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively, in 2010. Guatemala had a rate of 41 per 100,000 last year. All three are more than double the homicide rate of 18 per 100,000 in Mexico, where drug violence has drawn world attention.

In recent months the Peace Corps has come under sharp criticism as a result of its poor success in keeping PCVs safe in a number of countries, particularly from the crimes of rape, robbery, assault and homicide. The reality is that the Peace Corps refuses to harden security for its volunteers, even as security threats worldwide have escalated.

Conversely, the UN, other humanitarian agencies and a multitude of NGOs have increased the personal security of its staff while the Peace Corps continues to believe that PCVs can ride bicycles and take local buses and live in poorly secured residences as they did when the Peace Corps was conceptualized in the 1960s.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Former Police Chief in San Juan Denied Bail Amidst 22 Charges of Child Pornography

US Federal Judge Silvia Carreño on Thursday (December 22) denied bail to the former chief of police of San Juan, who stands accused of 22 counts of production of child pornography. Carreño justified her decision due to the flight risk and the danger that, in her judgment, the former police chief poses to society.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent testified at the hearing that federal agents found on Cordero’s computer explicit photos of minors in sexual situations. Cordero, according to the agent, also exchanged messages with sexual content with a minor living near him in the San Juan suburb of Carolina.

Cordero pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges during the hearing and must now sit in jail until February 6, 2012, which is when the judge set the defendant's court appearance, to learn the date his trial will begin.

The Cordero case caused considerable public outcry in Puerto Rico by coinciding, at the beginning of last spring, with domestic violence incidents involving two other high-ranking cops: Richard Nazario and Juan Sergio Rubin.

COMMENT: It is clear that Puerto Rico's police system is seriously broken what with Cordero's problems, a series of police scandals in recent years, Puerto Rico having the highest per capita homicide rate in the US, countless allegations of illegal arrests of citizens and human rights violations.

Although there have been a number of US Department of Justice investigations and studies into widespread corruption and misconduct, promises to clean up the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) have generally fallen upon deaf ears.

Luis Guillermo Fortuño Burset, the first Republican governor of Puerto Rico since 1969, is well-liked and intends to run for reelection in 2012. Unfortunately, though, he has been unable to clean up the PRPD.

For travelers to Puerto Rico, keep in mind the the PRPD is probably one of the worst in the US when it comes to protecting the public. Hence, the police should generally be avoided unless a traveler has been a crime victim and requires a copy of a police report for insurance purposes.

Additionally, street crime is widespread and driven heavily by Puerto Rico's out-of-control drug problem. Hotel safe deposit boxes should be used for valuables, travelers should carry only a photocopy of the photo page and identifying information contained in their passport and the carrying of cash should be kept to a minimum.

Given the level of crime in Puerto Rico, I could make several Caribbean recommendations to our readers as alternatives to a vacation trip there.

For business travelers, who must travel to Puerto Rico, I would be happy to address emails from our readers. Just email me at

American Tourist, 62, Collapses, Dies While Swimming in the Caymans

An American tourist, 62, died earlier today (December 22), while swimming with his wife some 50 yards off shore at Smith Cove near George Town, in the Cayman Islands, after his swimming became labored. The man's wife was able to help him to shore, but after reaching the beach he suddenly lost consciousness. Tragically, the man was pronounced dead upon arriving at a local hospital.

COMMENT: As most of our readers know from my previous postings that I am a strong advocate of all international travelers getting a thorough medical examination, including a cardiovascular evaluation, for those over 40, before traveling abroad.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

British Foreign Office Issues Update on Protests in Cairo

As political protests and street violence continues in Cairo, our readers should review the excellent update issued to British citizens traveling to Egypt. It should be noted, though, that this is great advice for the any traveler visiting Cairo at this time:

How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Commercial Airliner: Read This

The Wall Street Journal recently did an excellent piece on the risks of getting sick on a commercial airliner with a number of great tips on how to reduce the probability of leaving your next flight sicker than you boarded it:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

American Tourist, 70, Killed, When Car Hits Dog Sled in Sweden

Most of our readers are well aware of how I advocate preplanning when it comes to managing risks we all face when we travel abroad. This is a case that underlines why it is essential that we all have our personal affairs in order, no matter where we are traveling to.

On Monday (December 19), an American tourist, 70, died and four other people were injured when a car struck a dog sled in Sweden:
Two American tourists, two British tourists and a local guide were riding on the dog sled at a designated crossing near Jukkasjarvi, northern Sweden, when it was hit by a car and careened into a nearby ditch. The car, which swerved in an attempt to miss the sled, turned over as it also crashed into the ditch, landing on the sled.

COMMENT: The injured sled passengers and its driver were rushed to a local hospital, but a 70-year-old American man died of his injuries on the way. His companion, an American woman, was moved to Umea University Hospital, as her injuries were deemed to be serious, but not life-threatening. The two British tourists and the sled driver sustained minor injuries, while the car driver was treated for shock. The dogs involved were only mildly injured.

As intimated above, when we travel away from home, but particularly when we travel abroad, it is essential that our last will and testament, an advanced medical directive, a power of attorney and a letter of instruction be in place so our families can act on our behalf. Clearly, in the case described above, no one anticipated that they would be involved in a freak accident while enjoying a dog sled ride, but events such as this do occur.

Australian Couple Reimbursed for Major Theft from In-Room Safe

The management of the Andaman Beach Suites Hotel in Patong (Phuket, Thailand) has agreed to a settlement with an Australian couple who claimed that their money was stolen from their in-room safe.

Australian tourist Jim Nagi, 44, said he first noticed cash missing from the safe in his hotel room at the Andaman Beach on December 8. Then, on December 12, Nagi attempted to open the safe, but couldn't, so the reception desk used their master. It was at that time that Nagi and his wife realized that $A7,500 (US$7,400) had disappeared from the safe. Nagi then reported the theft to police in Patong, but has heard nothing since.

COMMENT: The couple, who had checked in to the Andaman Beach Suites hotel on December 4, moved into another room on December 8, the day that some of their cash disappeared. Subsequently, the hotel agreed to pay the Nagis the $A7,500.

In a strange sequence of events, the hotel management later asserted that the Nagis had brought "unauthorized guests" to stay in their room, inferring that such guests very likely had stolen the money. Yet, when the Nagis brought up the closed-circuit television cameras on each floor, strangely the hotel claimed the cameras were not directed correctly, which did not reveal the images of the "unauthorized guests."

As part of the agreement with the Nagis, the couple will pay only half of their room service charges and only half of all other extraordinary expenses added to his bill.

Given how important "saving face" is in Thailand, this case presumably ended as well as could be expected. Yet, there are lesson-learned for both the Andaman Beach Suites Hotel and the Nagis:

For the hotel: Everyone knows that in-room safes are NOT a secure way of safeguarding valuables, largely because they all have a "back-door" entry accessible to hotel staff. Hence, they should not be offered or used. Ever. Alternatively, the hotel should do what most hotels do, is to offer a bank of safe deposit boxes in the lobby with a two-key system, which eliminates the risk of internal theft.

For the Nagis: In an era where ATMs are available everywhere, it was imprudent for the couple of be traveling with so much cash. If they had NOT used the in-room safe, all of their problems would have been avoided. On page 208 of my book STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, I strongly discourage the use of in-room safes. To obtain a copy, go to or

Diver, 36, Trapped Inside Charter Boat, Dies in Florida Keys

Aimee Rhoads, 36, a tourist diver from Washington state, was pronounced dead after emergency workers performing CPR could not revive her on Sunday (December 18). Rhoads reportedly was trapped inside the cabin of a 25-foot charter boat that quickly sank in choppy seas in the Florida Keys.

Amit Rampurkarl, 27, of New York, also was trapped inside the cabin of the charter boat called "Get Wet," which is owned and operated by Key Largo Scuba Shack. Rampurkarl survived and was taken to Baptist Hospital in Kendall, although he remains in critical condition.

The other six people aboard the boat, including the captain and one crew member, all survived with no major injuries.

COMMENT: The tragedy happened not long after the divers completed their first of two planned dives on Molasses Reef, a popular spot about 30 feet deep and a few miles offshore of Key Largo in the Atlantic Ocean. The boat had just left one mooring spot and was enroute to a second dive location on the large reef when it began taking on water. The boat sank in less than three minutes.

Captain John Nathaniel dove into the cabin and retrieved Rhoads and Rampurkarl, who were unconscious. They were put on a commercial vessel from Pennekamp Park called "Visibility" that had arrived to help, and both were given CPR en route to Key Largo.

Key Largo Scuba Shack, which opened August 2010, has suspended its operations while investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Coast Guard determine what happened.

The weather started out fairly calm but the winds picked up and the seas got choppier as the day progressed. The accident happened at about 1515, when winds were at least 15 mph and the seas were 3 to 4 feet.

Updates will be provided on this accident as information becomes available.

Monday, December 19, 2011

FBI Reports That Major Crimes Decline Sharply During First Six Months of 2011

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports murders, rapes and other violent crimes declined sharply in the first six months of 2011, a 6.4% reduction compared to the same time frame in 2010. This is a continuation of a trend over the past 4.5 years.

Additionally, this represents a 5.7% drop in homicides, a 5.1% decrease in rapes, a decline in armed robberies 7.7% and a drop in aggravated assaults by 5.9%. Property crimes such as property crimes such as burglary, larceny, theft and motor vehicle theft, also dropped in the first half of the year, with burglaries down 2.2%, larceny and theft down 4.0% and stolen vehicles down by 5.0%.

COMMENT: Although the FBI is not required to draw conclusions as to an explanation of why crime levels increase or decline, one explanation for these dramatic declines in crime may well be the dramatic increase in the number of citizens who now carry concealed firearms in the 49 of the 50 states that authorize concealed or open-carry.

As a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) pistol instructor, and from my own personal experience, the unprecedented number of firearms sales of citizens and their becoming licensed to carry a concealed weapon no doubt is one reason for the decline in many serious crimes. That is, increasingly, criminals are encountering citizens who are licensed and trained in the use of handguns far better than they are.

Other explanations also include the prompt response time to crime scenes; one of the highest clearance rates in the world; the high conviction rate of crime based on forensic evidence; and the high reliance on technology to solve crimes.

US Department of State Issues Travel Warning on Cote d'Ivoire

For the benefit of all of our readers, please note that the US Department of State, effective December 16, 2011, has issued an updated travel warning on Cote d'Ivoire:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Update: Australian Kidnap Victim Reportedly in the Hands of Abu Sayyaf

As a follow-up to my previous postings on the December 5 kidnapping of Australian citizen Warren Rodwell, 53, Rodwell is now reportedly in the hands of a Abu Sayyaf unit in the southern Philippines that is known for beheading Christian kidnap victims. The source of this information is The Sydney Herald, which interviewed a reliable military commander in the Philippines.

COMMENT: In mid-October, six captured soldiers were hacked to death in a village on Basilan Island where fourteen Philippine marines were beheaded four years ago.

Rodwell was kidnapped by at least four gunmen disguised as police officers from a house he bought in a village near the coastal town of Ipil on Mindanao. Using poor judgment, Rodwell declined police protection and told local police that he had purchased a handgun and would defend himself from kidnappers.

Obviously, Rodwell apparently was endowed with much more bravado than common sense, as the one time one should NOT resist a kidnapping is when the kidnappers are heavily armed and outnumber the victim.

While engaged in kidnap resolution work in Latin America, I have known at least three kidnap victims who were shot and killed because they resisted a kidnapping. In my countless briefings and training courses I've taught over the years to multinational executives and expats living in foreign countries, I have always consistently urged kidnap targets NOT to resist.

To make matters worse, kidnappers in Mindanao are highly experienced in their craft, having kidnapped countless locals and foreigners over the years.

In Rodwell's case, his persistence to resist a kidnapping, led to him being shot and injured, which is never a wise thing to let happen in a jungle environment, where emergency medical treatment is in very short supply.

What is known is that Rodwell's abductors have contacted the governor's office in the provincial capital of Zamboanga City, indicating they want to negotiate a ransom for Rodwell's release.

Normally, foreign governments who represent the interests of its citizens abroad, leave the resolution of kidnap cases in the hands of host governments in which abductions occur.