Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was busy yesterday, issuing upgraded travel advisories for three countries within two hours. All of the countries are listed as destinations in which to exercise “a high degree of caution”.
The three countries are Indonesia, Thailand and Russia. For each of them, DFAT has upgraded its advice in the light of recent events. As often, the focus is on terrorism, a very real threat. Russia yesterday suffered two terrorist atrocities, two bombings within 24 hours that killed at least 31 people in the city of Volgograd.
DFAT’s three warnings:
INDONESIA: Indonesian authorities advise that extremists may be planning to attack churches in Jakarta, and elsewhere in Indonesia, during the 2014 New Year period, DFAT reports.
“We continue to receive information that indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia, which could take place at any time.”
DFAT advises that terrorist groups remain active throughout Indonesia despite police disruptions.
“Police continue to conduct operations against these groups and have stated publicly that terrorist suspects remaining at large may seek to attack Western targets.
“You should exercise particular caution around locations that have a low level of protective security and avoid places known to be possible terrorist targets.”
THAILAND: On 22 December 2013, a vehicle containing explosives was discovered in Phuket Town, DFAT informs.
“This incident is under investigation. We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Thailand due to the threat of terrorist attack, particularly in the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla, where we advise you not to travel.
“Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
“The Thai Government has called national elections on 2 February 2014,” DFAT adds.
“Political demonstrations have occurred in various parts of Bangkok since November 2013 and are likely to continue. The Internal Security Act, which gives authorities additional powers to manage protests, is currently in force in Bangkok and some areas of surrounding provinces.
“Demonstrations have also occurred in other centres outside of Bangkok, including Phuket town.
“Australians should avoid all protests, political rallies, election-related events and large-scale gatherings as well as security deployments associated with such events.”
RUSSIA: Russia’s city of Volgograd was rocked by two explosions yesterday, Bombs designed to inflict maximum injuries were detonated in a railway station and a bus. Believed to be suicide bombings, the explosions highlight the Islamist terror threat Russia faces as it prepares to host the Winter Olympic Games in six weeks in Sochi.
The Russian attacks came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for attacks against civilian targets in Russia.
DFAT’s advice issued yesterday advises Australians to “exercise a high degree of caution in Russia because of the threat of terrorist activity and the level of criminal activity.
“There is an ongoing risk of terrorism in Russia,” DFAT confirms.
“Terrorist attacks have occurred in Russian cities, including Moscow, and are a particular threat in the North Caucasus region, which is close to Sochi. Threats have been made by terrorist groups against the Sochi Olympics. Attacks may also take place in other regions of Russia.
“Targets have included public transport and transport hubs, and public places frequented by foreigners. In addition, a number of planned attacks have been disrupted by security services in recent years, underscoring the continuing interest of terrorists in attacking Russian locations.
“Two separate terrorist incidents occurred in the city of Volgograd in late December. On 29 December at least 16 people were killed in an attack on Volgograd railway station and at least ten people were killed following the bombing of a trolleybus on 30 December.”
DFAT continued: “We strongly advise you not to travel to the North Caucasus, in particular the regions of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, the south-east part of Stavropol bordering Chechnya, Karbardino-Balkaria (including the Elbrus area), and Karachay-Cherkessia because of the high threat of terrorist activity.”
St Petersburg, Russia’s prime city for tourists, has reportedly cancelled its planned New Year’s Eve fireworks display as a precaution against terrorist attack.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph notes that the latest bombing atrocities in Russia are grimly reminiscent of the build-up to terrorist “spectaculars” that hit Russia in the mid 2000s, including the Beslan School massacre, in which more than 300 people died.
In the town of Beslan in September 2004, a group of armed Islamic separatist fanatics, mostly Ingush and Chechen, seized a school on the first day of the school year and took more than 1100 people hostage, including 777 students. The siege ended with the death of over 380 people, including 186 children.
Written by Peter Needham