US raises security alert for Americans
MANILA, Philippines—Citing the “uncertainty and volatility of the current situation” following the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the US Department of State has issued a global alert warning American citizens against a possible outbreak of anti-US violence worldwide.
“The US Department of State alerts US citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counterterrorism activity in Pakistan,” the agency’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (BCA) said in a May 1 advisory.
Australia issued a similar warning. In countries with significant Muslim populations, international schools, embassies and other potential targets were putting extra security measures in place in case of reprisals.
Britain confirmed it was taking extra precautions at its embassies around the world and its military bases were on heightened alert.
The global police agency Interpol also called for increased security measures, warning that the death of Bin Laden could provoke reprisal attacks around the world.
Supporters of Bin Laden’s violent campaign took to militant Internet sites to vow revenge.
“The lions will remain lions and will continue moving in the footsteps of Osama. O Allah, America will not enjoy safety and security until we live it in Palestine,” one user wrote on the Shumukh al-Islam forum.
“The celebrations are amusing. Cheer all you want infidel, you only have a limited amount of time in this life in which to do it,” another wrote.
While some experts said that Bin Laden’s death would damage al-Qaida’s brand image, and perhaps lead the organization to fracture still further along geographical lines, most predicted attacks would continue.
“The United States will unfortunately suffer, because jihadists have a tendency to avenge their slain chiefs,” warned Matthieu Guidere, a French academic who specializes in the Arab world.
After the death of the leader of al-Qaida’s group in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, in April 2006, his successor launched a wave of suicide attacks against US and Iraqi targets, Guidere noted.
And although the figurehead of the operation has died in a plush Pakistani mountain resort and garrison town north of Islamabad, al-Qaida militants in the field have long been acting independently.
“On a tactical level, the death of Bin Laden is not a decisive victory, as for many years he has not been an operational leader and the power has been in the hands of local commanders,” Guidere said.
Lost brand label
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor at the Sciences-Po school in Paris and author of a book on al-Qaida, said Bin Laden’s death would accelerate the group’s existing division into separate fighting entities.
“Osama bin Laden’s leadership was in truth ideological. He was the only one able to unite all the disparate groups around the world,” said antiterrorist judge Marc Trevidic, saying al-Qaida had lost a brand label.
Nevertheless, Frank Faulkner, a senior lecturer in sociology and terrorism studies at the University of Derby in Britain, said that revenge attacks were inevitable.
“It’s just a case of when and where,” he said.
Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble urged “extra vigilance” from “law enforcement authorities to a heightened terror risk from al-Qaida affiliated or al-Qaida inspired terrorists as a result of Bin Laden’s death.”
“The world’s most wanted international terrorist is no more,” Noble said in a statement issued by his office.
“But the death of Bin Laden does not represent the demise of al-Qaida affiliates and those inspired by al-Qaida, who have and will continue to engage in terrorist attacks around the world,” he said.
“We therefore need to remain united and focused in our ongoing cooperation and fight, not only against this global threat but also against terrorism by any group anywhere,” he added.
Noble said Interpol, a global coordinating body based in France that works with national police forces in 188 member states, was “on full alert for acts of retaliation should al-Qaida try to prove they still exist.”
Limit travel, avoid rallies
The BCA strongly urged Americans “in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.”
US citizens should also “stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings … US citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest US embassy or consulate,” said the travel alert, which expires on Aug. 1.
It noted that “media coverage of local events may cause family and friends to become concerned for their loved ones traveling and residing abroad.”
“We urge US citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends,” said the BCA.
The state department said US embassy operations in affected areas would continue to the extent possible under the constraints of any evolving security situation.
“US government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, US embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to US citizens,” it said.
On Monday, Rebecca B. Thompson, spokesperson of the US embassy in Manila, did not comment on the travel alert.
Instead, Thompson referred the Philippine Daily Inquirer to the BCA website —www.travel.state.gov— which she said “has the most up-to-date information.”
The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) has placed four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) under “heightened alert” status following Bin Laden’s death.
In a May 2 memorandum, Vicente Guerzon Jr., MIAA assistant general manager, said the move was necessary “as a precautionary measure to ensure the security and safety of airport users, as well as protect airport infrastructure.”
Guerzon said the following security measures shall be immediately implemented at NAIA Terminals 1 to 4:
• Strict access control procedures for both personnel and vehicles.
• Rigid inspection of airline passengers and cargo at security checkpoints.
• Intensified police visibility as well as K-9 paneling at the terminals.
• Maximized deployment of patrol vehicles at aircraft movement areas and airport perimeter.
• Intensified intelligence and monitoring operations as well as networking with other security units.
Guerzon said “matters that may affect smooth airport operations must be brought to the immediate attention of MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado.” With reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters
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