Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pakistan: Murder of Briton, 55, in Rawalpindi to Testify Against Kidnappers, A Lesson For All of Us

According to the BBC, British national Malik Iqbal, 55, an ethnic Pakistani, who returned to Rawalpindi last month [August] after being kidnapped and released in September 2011, following payment of a 15,000 pound ransom payment (US$24,307), was shot and killed by three gunmen on Friday (September 28).

COMMENT: Having worked in Pakistan on numerous times in the past, I would have advised Mr. Iqbal NOT to return to Rawalpindi to testify against the men who had kidnapped him. He got away with his life ONCE. Attempting to do so a second time was very likely tempting fate.

Life in Pakistan, regrettably, is unsafe for all foreigners, regardless of their nationality. Thus, I'm puzzled by the British and US governments failure to discourage travel to Pakistan unless those that do travel can be effectively protected from kidnapping and murder. 

Only in recent days, since the turmoil in the Middle East, has the State Department warned against non-essential travel to Pakistan, whereas the British government is less restrictive. 

Sadly, having returned to his home in Bradford [UK] after his ransom was paid, Malik should NOT have returned to Pakistan, given the country’s obvious inability to keep him safe while waiting to testify against his kidnappers.

Iqbal was shot multiple times by three assailants who appeared at a house he was staying at in Rawalpindi. From all indications, he was not being protected by anyone at the time of his murder. Unfortunately, integrity is elusive in the Pakistani police system, which essential means that NO one can be trusted.

At the time of his kidnapping, Malik was chained to a bed on a farm for roughly twenty days until a ransom was paid. 

Ironically, after being released last year, Mr. Iqbal told the BBC that he warned against anyone traveling to Pakistan. Tragically, he should have adhered to his own good advice, knowing that the Pakistani government could not ensure his safety.

Tunisia: Fourteen US Cruise Lines Cease Ports of Call, 40,000 Passengers Impacted

As a result of an attack on the US Embassy in Tunis on September 14, fourteen US cruise lines have cancelled stops in Tunisian ports due to security concerns for passengers. The decision, unfortunately, has impacted roughly 40,000 passengers. 

COMMENT: Reports said Tunisian authorities are in contact with cruise line owners and tour operators to convince them of the safety of Tunisian destinations.

Nevertheless, the US Department of State has issued a travel warning urging US citizens not to travel to Tunisia.


Thailand: Despite Bangkok's State-of-the-Art International Airport, Incoming Passengers Still Victimized by Unlicensed Guides, Taxis

According to The Bangkok Post, and despite the passage of six years since Bangkok's new international airport, Suvarnabhumi, opened for business, incoming passengers continue to be victimized by unlicensed tour guides and taxis.
Typically, guides and taxis, working in concert, "fleece" tourists and travelers and often charge five to ten times the standard taxi rate from the airport to Central Bangkok. 
Moreover, the same guides and taxis derive substantial commissions when they drop fares off at preferred hotels, guesthouses and shops.
COMMENT: Although the Airports of Thailand (AoT) began enforcing regulations relative to guides and taxis ion 2009, given the level of corruption in Thailand, enforcement is less than uniform. Even the airport director openly acknowledges that the widespread inflation of charges continues.
Unfortunately, illegal guides and taxis largely target foreign visitors because they are generally unfamiliar with standard taxi fees and often are approached by aggressive hawkers who tell them that they can expedite them through the airport much quicker, which is often not the case.

A standard one-way taxi fare from Suvarnabhumi should run roughly 350 baht (US$12) plus a 15-20% tip for exceptional service, as most taxi operators do not normally expect a tip, but rounding off a fare will be received well.

Regrettably, the "illegal" operators often charge between 2,000-3,000 baht into Bangkok, which is equivalent to US$64-97.

On the other hand, many guides and taxis prey on foreign visitors late at night when flights from Europe and North America are arriving, when airport enforcement is sparse.

If in doubt as to how you go about getting a standard fee taxi into town, ask any uniformed airport official or a member of the airport police.

Another way NOT to get shaken down is to ask guides or taxi drivers who approach you to provide you their business card, hopefully with their taxi license number. It should be noted that most legitimate taxis have plates with a yellow background and black lettering.

Obviously, DO NOT agree to be driven into Central Bangkok by anyone that aggressively approaches you in the airport to offer you a ride into the city, as they assuredly are not legitimate guides or taxi operators.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guam: Taiwanese Couple Robbed at Gunpoint, Assaulted, Robbed at Cetti Bay

Three unidentified local assailants confronted a Taiwanese couple who were enjoying the Cetti Bay Overlook on Tuesday (September 25) and subsequently pistol-butted and punched a male victim, after which they robbed the couple of a gold watch, an iPhone, car keys and their rental car. The incident occurred during daylight hours.
COMMENT: Anyone who may have witnessed the armed robbery are urged to contact police or Guam Crimestoppers at 477-HELP (4357). 
Police are also investigating another similar robbery that occurred over the weekend at the Coco Palm Resort at Urunao.
Over the last couple of years the auto theft of rental vehicles and incidents of armed robbery have been a common occurrence throughout Guam.
As a result, tourists and travelers are urged to avoid wearing expensive or expensive-looking jewelry, carrying high-end smart-phones in public view and carrying large amounts of cash.
Additionally, those renting cars should take steps of not parking such vehicles in secluded areas, where local criminals can prey upon them. Given the rise in car rental theft, renters should insure vehicles for full coverage in the event the car is stolen and disappears.
Although rental cars are a great way of seeing the island, there are an assortment of options available to tourists in the form of taxis, organized tours and mass-transit service. 

The Guam Mass Transit Authority currently operates buses on nine routes, connecting nearly all of the villages of the island. Service on all routes is provided six days per week, Monday through Saturday, and is available to peoples with disabilities. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tanzania: Greek Physician, 48, Killed in Snatch/Grab For Failing to Release Her Purse

Tragically, a visiting Greek physician, a woman, age 48, was walking along Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road in the center of Dar es Salaam with a number of her colleagues on Sunday (September 23), when she was targeted by purse snatchers traveling slowly in a vehicle who suddenly grabbed her purse.

Unfortunately, the victim refused to surrender her purse to the moving vehicle, hanging on to it as the assailant's vehicle gained speed and escaped from the scene with her purse. 

Sadly, the doctor was killed as a result of her injuries sustained during the snatch-and-grab and her unwillingness to give up her purse. Although her friends rushed her to Aga Khan Hospital in the capital, she expired as a result of internal bleeding.  

COMMENT: Our condolences and sympathies go out to the physician's family.

To make matters worse, the doctor was scheduled to return to Athens on Monday (September 24), having completed her medical mission to Dar es Salaam.

A recent double murder of a tourist in a tented camp just outside the Serengeti, where a camp manager was also killed, also rocked the local tourism community. 

As I have said numerous times in the past, there are NO safe countries.

Tourists and travelers in developing countries are urged to avoid carrying purses and tote bags and rather to carry small cameras and other necessary items in a small case attached to a belt, so as to not flag that they have items of value.

Additionally, pedestrians are urged to avoid walking along the curbside of pedestrian areas, where they may well be vulnerable to snatch-and-grab criminals traveling by motorbike and vehicles.

Alternatively, they should attempt to walk in the center of sidewalks to avoid criminals traveling in vehicles.

Most important, travelers are strongly urged NOT to resist efforts to  steal their valuables as no amount of property is worth YOUR LIFE. Property can be replaced, our life cannot be!

Travelers are also reminded NOT to carry credit cards or their passport in their purse, if they must use one, and carry only a small amount of cash. 

In terms of carrying one's passport, safeguard your passport in your hotel lobby safe deposit box and carry only a photocopy of your passport page as well as your entry stamp into the country.

It is prudent to carry an ATM card for withdrawing small amounts of cash as needed.

Sadly, had the good doctor simply relinquished her purse to her assailants, she would be home by now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

St. Maarten: Suspect in Brutal Slaying of American Couple Arrested

Early on Sunday (September 23), St. Maarten police arrested a suspect in the slayings of a South Carolina couple whose bodies, slashed by a knife, were found in their beachfront condominium on the tiny Dutch Caribbean territory.
As this report is filed, the unidentified suspect is in custody, pending a police press release.
Tragically, the bodies of Michael and Thelma King were found on Thursday (September 20) in their condominium at the Ocean Club Resort on St. Maarten, a 16-square-mile territory with about 50,000 inhabitants that shares a small island with the French dependency of St. Martin.
Autopsies of the couple are scheduled today (September 24). Family members of the slain couple should also be arriving momentarily.
COMMENT: According to the Charleston-based Post and Courier, Mr. King was a retired insurance executive who later started a successful printing business that he sold. He said King also owned a couple of restaurants on St. Maarten.

When a friend couldn't reach the Kings by phone on Thursday, they went to their home to investigate, at which point the bodies of the couple were found.

As I have said on numerous occasions and cited from my book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, "there are no safe countries anywhere," which is why I am so emphatic about the need for security training for all citizens of the world.

Additionally, to manage personal security risks, every person must have a focused sense of security awareness, particularly those who have financial means.

Depending on whether the Kings opened their home to their assailants or were surprised by intruders they encountered inside of the home, such information will be useful in determining what security vulnerabilities led to the deaths of the couple.

Particularly in developing regions of the world, my philosophy is guided by the need for formidable levels of residential physical security, as it is impossible to predict when or where a violent crime will occur.

Another unknown variable at this time is whether the slaying of the couple was prompted  by a motive of robbery, or whether the reason for their murders stemmed from other motives.

Regardless of the motive, effective physical security is one sound way of reducing vulnerabilities which might lead to a violent crime.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

A 2012 update of my book will be available in  print and via e-readers (Kindle, iPad and Nook) in early November.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

UK/Spain: Despite Safety Campaigns, Intoxicated Britons Continue to Die

An inquest in Wakefield, West Yorks, this week was told that British tourist Adam Atkinson, 20, may well have been attempting to jump out to surprise his friends during the early morning hours of April 17, when he climbed over a railing, lost his grip and fell to his death three floors below. 

The latest tragedy occurred at the Hotel Martinique in Magaluf.

Those in attendance also heard that along with other young British adults, Adam returned to their hotel after a night of clubbing only to engage in a game of bravado with his friends to measure how many glasses of vodka could be downed in a two-hour period.

The accident was the latest in a string of deaths on the Spanish sunshine island, which saw three fatalities in just one month.
The British Foreign Office data also reveals that Majorca has seen a 132% rise in hospital admissions for sick and injured Brits in the last two years alone.
In Majorca and Ibiza there have been nine balcony falls, including three deaths, often involving young people and alcohol.

COMMENT: After Adam’s death four more Brits had falls in Magaluf, with two deaths.

Although the Foreign Office and the Association of British Travel Agents have joined collectively to promote a safety program aimed at youthful British tourists, telling binge drinkers not to drink and engage in foolish pranks that cause them to die is fruitless. Such an approach will never work, particularly when impaired peer pressure is so intensely at work:
Considering that that I have over 35 years' experience in physical security, much of it acquired in apartment and hotel construction, Spanish hotels must come to the realization that telling someone not to do something is absurd from the outset.

The only approach that WILL discourage young British tourists from engaging in what is tantamount to Russian Roulette is a retrofitting of the balconies found in Spain, in particular, which appeal largely to partying groups.

Respectfully, I offer the British Foreign Office and the ABTA to provide them a 60% reduction off my consultation fees provided that they additionally absorb the cost of my airfare, hotel accommodations and ground expenses. Also, an in-depth White Paper, including detailed recommendations, is included in the effort.

Such an offer is designed solely to identify physical security solutions in preventing further injuries and loss of life of British tourists.

If the Foreign Office, the ABTA and Spanish hoteliers do not act soon, the human carnage will only continue to irreversibly change the lives of British parents.

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Zealand: Update on American Newlyweds Involved in Head-On Collision

COMMENT: As a followup to my earlier posting yesterday (September 20), regarding the New Jersey couple, Kenneth Stithem, 31, and his wife, Kristen Steinke, 28, who were involved in a head-on collision with a truck, I must tragically report that Kenneth was killed and Kristen remains in critical condition in a local hospital.

Our condolence and prayers go out to both of their families.

For additional details, please see:

For those of you who have not read my complete posting of yesterday, please do as it specifically focuses on the dangerous roadways that foreign drivers must cope with in New Zealand, not to mention the risk of immediately having to drive on the "left," upon arrival in the country, often influenced by jet-lag. 

Global Impact: Americans, Europeans Urged to Be Cautious Amidst Anti-US Protests, Some Very Violent

COMMENT: Our readers are cautioned that numerous anti-US and Western nation protests and demonstrations have spread throughout the Muslim world today (September 21), accounting for the deaths of roughly 47 people.

As a result, the following suggestions are offered:

1. Ensure that you have already electronically registered your travel and contact information with the US Department of State or your appropriate Foreign Ministry;

2.  Avoid visits to your respective embassy or consulate;

3.  Avoid wearing any apparel, flags or logos that identify what country you are from;

4.  Avoid ALL public gatherings no matter how peaceful they appear to be; and

5. Consider remaining in your hotel if violent demonstrations have been reported in the city in which you are traveling or living in.