Security alerts: Tension with Iraq and other developments in recent weeks have led the State Department to issue four separate announcements urging Americans to be especially careful outside the United States:
* A New York judge on Jan. 8 sentenced Ramzi Ahmed Yousef to life imprisonment for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The State Department advised Americans abroad of "the potential for retaliation" by Yousef's sympathizers, urging travelers "to pay close attention to their personal security practices."
* A similar caution followed the Jan. 23 death sentence imposed on Mir Aimal Kasi for the 1993 murders of two people outside Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va.
* As the latest confrontation with Iraq intensified, a Feb. 5 announcement cited the possibility of random acts of anti-American violence worldwide and urged Americans "to exercise greater than usual caution." A supplement to the Feb. 5 notice issued five days later suggested that Americans who live in the Middle East, South Asia and neighboring European countries be prepared for any emergencies.
Dangerous cities: Kroll Associates, a business-intelligence firm, has released a list of the 10 cities it considers most dangerous for American business travelers. Arranged alphabetically and excluding war zones, they are Algiers, Algeria; Bogota, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela; Johannesburg, South Africa; Karachi, Pakistan; Lagos, Nigeria; Medellin, Colombia; Mexico City; Moscow; and Rio de Janeiro.
Although some of the cities are in countries that the State Department lists as dangerous for Americans (see Hot Spots below), half of the cities--Caracas, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Moscow and Rio--are in countries not on the U.S. government's travel-warning list.
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro's famed Carnival is underway, but even before it began, dozens of tourists were reminded of the hazards of visiting the city. After carrying passengers from the United States and eight other countries to the statue of Christ atop Mt. Corcovado on Feb. 4, a tourist train was ambushed on its return trip. Robbers with guns and knives blocked the tracks and methodically went through the train, taking passengers' cash, credit cards, jewelry, cameras, watches, passports and airline tickets. No one was injured.
Mexico: Officials in Mexico City announced plans to set up special "tourist corridors" to shield visitors from soaring crime and violence. Extra police will be stationed in areas where tourists gather, starting with the city center and the restaurant-filled Zona Rosa. After an increase in taxi violence, the American embassy recently warned Americans against flagging down taxis anywhere on Mexico City's streets.
El Salvador: Three members of an American family who had just arrived in San Salvador were robbed at gunpoint at the entrance to a private home by bandits who may have followed them from the airport. . . . Worldwide: According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the following countries do not comply with international air safety standards: Belize, Congo (Formerly Zaire), Dominican Republic, Gambia, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Malta, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Suriname, Swaziland, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are posted for Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Montserrat, Nigeria, Pakistan, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Tajikistan.
The U.S. State Department offers recorded travel warnings and advisories at (202) 647-5225; the fax line is (202) 647-3000. Internet address is http://travel.state.gov.
Wright is a former assistant foreign editor at The Times. His column appears monthly.