Security alert: Muslim militants have called for attacks on American civilians and allied interests worldwide, and U.S. officials are taking the threats seriously. The unusual fatwas, or religious rulings, were issued late last month by a coalition of Islamic extremist groups in London whose leaders have not been identified. They are believed to be based, at least in part, on the standoff with Iraq on weapons inspections. The announcements "explicitly justify attacks on American civilians anywhere in the world," according to CIA officials.
The State Department says it knows of no specific threats against U.S. targets overseas. But it urges Americans abroad to check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for up-to-date information on security conditions.
Drug caution: When college students head overseas this spring and summer, most will have a good time, but some will have grim encounters with foreign law enforcement systems. More than 2,500 Americans are arrested abroad each year, and more than one-third of those arrests are drug-related.
Americans have been arrested for possessing as little as one-third ounce of marijuana, the State Department reminds travelers. Penalties for drug use or possession can be severe--including a death sentence in some countries. Even before trial, it's not unusual to spend months or even years in detention, and conditions in foreign jails are frequently substandard.
Advice to travelers: Be wary of anyone who asks you to carry a package or drive a car across a border. If you need to carry prescription medication containing narcotics, have a doctor's certificate attesting to that fact, and keep all medicine in labeled containers.
The Balkans and Turkey: Unrest in Serbia's Kosovo Province is reverberating elsewhere in the region, and travelers should be aware of the possibilities of demonstrations or violence. On March 3, the State Department cautioned Americans against traveling to Kosovo. Demonstrations were held this month in the Turkish cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir denouncing Serbian police attacks on residents of Kosovo. In Skopje, capital of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, 20,000 ethnic Albanians rallied to demand international intervention to stop the fighting in Kosovo. A state-controlled newspaper in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, declared this month that the U.S. government was encouraging Serbian officials to use force in Kosovo--a statement that could lead to some anti-American sentiment in the region.
Mexico: In an apparent warning to foreigners to avoid meddling in local politics, the Mexican government in recent weeks has expelled at least a dozen foreigners, including three Americans, whom it accused of illegal activity in support of Zapatista rebels in Chiapas state. The government has expelled more than 200 foreigners in the past two years for political involvement in Chiapas, the Reuters news service reports.
Hostility to foreigners by Chiapas villagers appears to be increasing, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. This may be due to a recurrent theme heard in some of the Mexican media that the problems in Chiapas are being made worse by foreign agitators.
Briefly . . .
Kenya: A British tourist was stabbed to death during a robbery at the Aberdare Country Club, about 140 miles north of Nairobi. The man and his wife were attacked by two men during an early morning walk in a private game sanctuary attached to the club. . . . Brazil: Following the fatal shooting of a schoolteacher in her car, Rio de Janeiro's top traffic official warned residents that some streets become so dangerous after dark it might be advisable to run red lights rather than risk getting mugged while waiting for the green. . . . Mexico: A woman who works at the U.S. Embassy was kidnapped in downtown Mexico City in midday by two men who forced her into a car. They stole her ATM card, forced her to disclose her PIN number, withdrew money from her account and released her. This type of "quicknap" is becoming increasingly common in the capital, the embassy reports.
Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are posted for Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo (formerly Zaire), Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Montserrat, Nigeria, Pakistan, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), 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.