Government Issues Alert to New Year’s Terrorism

Edward Wright is a former assistant foreign editor at The Times. His column appears monthly


Y2K/Terrorism: Americans abroad may be targeted for attack by terrorists during the next few weeks, possibly during some of the massive New Year’s celebrations planned around the world, the State Department warns. The Dec. 21 announcement is the fifth and most urgent general alert issued to American travelers in recent months over the threat of terrorism. In careful language, it updates and slightly raises the threat level of a bulletin issued two weeks ago that for the first time singled out the New Year’s holiday as a possible occasion for violence.

The advisory says attacks could occur any time from now into mid-January. It cites the recent arrests of 13 men in Jordan suspected of planning terrorist attacks on tourist and other sites around the year’s end, including the targeting of Americans and Israelis. U.S. officials have identified Afghan-based terrorist leader Osama bin Laden as the likeliest instigator.

In a separate advisory, Americans in Jordan were advised to be especially security-conscious. In language similar to that of earlier announcements, the worldwide bulletin advises Americans abroad to avoid crowds and to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for updates on security conditions.


National security advisor Samuel R. Berger said in a broadcast interview that Americans should not be deterred from traveling. The warning is “a caution sign,” he said, “but not a stop sign.”

Y2K/Security: Many American embassies are taking extra precautions in anticipation of possible terrorist incidents in the next few weeks. U.S. diplomats in Beijing asked the Chinese government to increase security around the embassy compound and the four consulates across China. The embassy in Quito, Ecuador, closed for a few days after outsiders were seen conducting surveillance. Foreign capitals expecting heavy millennium traffic are also taking steps:

* More than 60,000 police will patrol the streets of Paris and other French cities on New Year’s Eve to help assure a smooth transition to the new century. The heavy security force, similar to that deployed during last year’s World Cup soccer championship, will be on the alert for terrorism or any possible disruption in case critical computer systems should fail.

* Israel will deploy a record 12,000 police in Jerusalem on New Year’s Eve. The expected hordes of millennial pilgrims, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the possibility of computer glitches and/or terrorism combine to give Israelis cause for concern.

Y2K/Preparedness: Advice from the U.S. government to Americans planning to be abroad:

* Check the State Department Internet site (see below) for status reports on the Y2K readiness of countries you plan to visit.

* Energy failures could jeopardize vital services such as heat, water and telephone. U.S. embassies and consulates do not have the resources to provide individual Americans with food, water, fuel, medicine or shelter.


* Take traveler’s checks and credit cards.

* Anticipate possible delays in flights overseas.

Y2K/Air Travel: The world’s major airports have reported that their computer systems are Y2K-ready, according to the International Air Transport Assn. The readiness report includes more than 1,600 airports representing 97% of international traffic and about 200 air traffic control centers covering all major international routes. The industry has worked to ensure that computers controlling radar, communications gear, passenger check-in systems and other equipment function smoothly when the computers’ internal clocks shift from 1999 to 2000.

Briefly . . .

Venezuela: Because of disastrous flooding that has left thousands dead, the State Department suggests that Americans put off traveling to Venezuela for the next few weeks. Eight states have been declared disaster areas, road conditions have deteriorated and airports are closed to civilian traffic. . . . Mexico: Several hundred university students demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City earlier this month, breaking windows and clashing with police.

Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are posted for Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo (formerly Zaire), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Moldova, Nigeria, Pakistan, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Yemen.

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