3 March 2014

News summary

UNITED STATES - Inclement weather affecting multiple states
VENEZUELA - Commemorative events to be held countrywide amid heightened political tensions
AFGHANISTAN - Explosion in Logar province results in casualties
CHINA - Separatists blamed for Kunming attack as casualties increase
INDIA - Strike called in Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka state
PAKISTAN - Fatalities reported following bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
PAKISTAN - Gunfire and explosions reported at district court in Islamabad
ITALY - Union-led strike to disrupt public transport in urban centres
UKRAINE - (Update) Armed forces on combat alert amid security developments in Crimea
ALGERIA - Militants killed in security operation in Tizi Ouzou province
LIBYA - French national killed in armed attack in Benghazi
LIBYA - Further protests possible following storming of GNC in Tripoli
SYRIA - (Update) Spanish national released following kidnapping in Hama
YEMEN - Houthis clash with government and al-Islah militia forces
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - Security forces combat ongoing insecurity in North Kivu
NIGERIA - Casualties reported following attacks in central Borno State



UNITED STATES (Country risk rating: Medium); 2 and 3 March; Inclement weather affecting multiple states

The United States National Weather Service (NOAA) has issued multiple winter weather warnings for parts of the South, Midwest and Northeast of the US for 2 and 3 March. Areas currently under winter storm warnings include southern areas of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey; most areas in Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC and Delaware; and western parts of Mississippi and Tennessee. The adverse weather warnings are expected to remain in effect until at least 16:00 local time on 3 March. Airlines in the affected region have already cancelled as many as 1,800 flights pre-emptively for 3 March, due to the expected inclement weather. The winter storm system has been and is expected to bring further heavy snowfall, rainfall and strong winds to the above-mentioned areas on 3 March. This is likely to result in some travel disruptions, particularly as visibility is expected to be significantly reduced; in addition to further delays and cancellations to flights at major airports, the inclement weather may also compromise road travel and public transport operations. As the storm system is expected to remain mobile, weather advisories may be extended to other previously unaffected areas as the storm progresses. Clients in affected areas of the US are advised to make allowances for travel disruptions and should consult their travel provider for an update on the status of their travel arrangements. Persons in areas affected by adverse weather should visit the NOAA website for further information regarding weather warnings.

VENEZUELA (Country risk rating: High); 5 to 15 March; Commemorative events to be held countrywide amid heightened political tensions

Venezuela is set to hold countrywide commemorative ceremonies to mark the first anniversary of the death of former president, Hugo Chavez, on 5 March. Incumbent president, Nicolas Maduro, has called a ten-day period of memorial events in various parts of the country. Cuartel de la Montana (Military History Museum) in the capital, Caracas, where Chavez is interred, has been closed ahead of the anniversary, reportedly in preparation for the countrywide gatherings. Although further details are currently undisclosed, the largest commemorative gatherings are likely to be held in the capital. The official memorial period will take place amid heightened political tensions in Venezuela; large-scale anti-government protests have continued on a near-daily basis since 12 February. During this period, a number of opposition groups have called for Maduro's resignation, citing high crime rates, runaway inflation and government-enforced restrictions on political liberties. Demonstrations have been marked by violence and significant disruptions, particularly in the capital's Chacao municipality and a number of other urban centres, including Valencia (Carabobo state), Merida (Merida) and San Cristobal (Tachira); at least 18 people have been killed and over 260 more injured during demonstrations since early February. It should be noted that protests are likely to persist during the upcoming commemorative period and disruptive opposition elements may attempt to infiltrate official memorial events in an effort to attract greater attention to their grievances. Demonstrations are likely to be forcefully repressed by security officials and further violent unrest should be anticipated in the country in the near-term. Furthermore, increased security measures and travel disruptions should be expected in the vicinity of all official memorial events. Clients in Venezuela are advised to consult local sources for further information regarding the upcoming commemorative period, and stay updated on local developments in the country. All large public gatherings and security force concentrations should be avoided as a precaution against civil unrest.

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Asia and Pacific

AFGHANISTAN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 2 March; Explosion in Logar province results in casualties

At least 13 people were killed in an explosion in Pul-i-Alam, capital of Afghanistan's southern Logar province, on 2 March. The incident reportedly occurred at 08:00 local time when a vehicle laden with explosives detonated prematurely, killing ten militants and four bystanders. There is an extreme threat of terrorism throughout Afghanistan, including in Pul-i-Alam. A number of militant organisations maintain the operational capacity to have orchestrated this most recent attack; the most notable of these is the Taleban, which is known to have a significant presence in Logar. Due to the ongoing presence of militant organisations, further terrorist-related casualties are likely in the near- to medium-term. Due to a number of security threats, including terrorism, red24 advises against all travel to Afghanistan. Persons in the country should monitor local media for developments and exercise maximum security precautions.

CHINA (Country risk rating: Medium); 2 March; Separatists blamed for Kunming attack as casualties increase

Authorities in China confirmed on 2 March that the death toll as a result of the 1 March attack on commuters at Kunming railway station has risen to 34 with over 130 others injured. Four assailants were among the casualties. Although there have been no public claims of responsibility thus far, state media has reported that Kunming officials have blamed the attack on separatist militants from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), located in the north west. This recent incident has been the most significant militant attack in China in recent years; this includes the high-profile attack in the capital, Beijing, when an explosive-laden vehicle drove into a crowd outside the city's Tiananmen gate on 28 October 2013. That incident was also blamed on separatist Uighur militants. The separatist tensions in the XUAR stem from claims of China's authoritative and repressive actions towards the region's Uighur population. Although militant activity and incidents of unrest occur frequently in the XUAR, attacks in the rest of China are considered unusual. Furthermore, in light of the recent Kunming incident, security is expected to be heightened countrywide, particularly in the vicinity of transport hubs and crowded tourist locations; these include additional roadblocks and security checks at entrance points. It is also probable that since Uighur militants have been blamed for the assault, additional security forces will be deployed into the XUAR and travel restrictions to the province are possible. Clients in China are advised to anticipate travel disruptions resulting from the increased security measures and to plan accordingly.

INDIA (Country risk rating: High); 3 March; Strike called in Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka state

Activists in the Dakshina Kannada district of India's Karnataka state have embarked on a general strike (known locally as a bandh) on 3 March. The bandh has been called by the activist organisation, Karavali Jeevanadi Nethravati Rakshana Samiti, which is comprised of organisations and activists that are opposed to the state's Yettinahole diversion project. The project aims to divert the Netravathi River's tributaries to other districts in the state. Those opposed to the project claim that this river is vital to both the district's commercial life as well as being an essential water source. The organisation has stated that it does not intend to enforce the bandh on the district's citizens; however, several transport and industry unions have stated their support for the upcoming strike. As such, travel disruptions are expected throughout the district. There is a threat of violent civil unrest during any strike action in India; as such, it should be noted that there is a threat of incidental violence to bystanders at any demonstrations associated with the strike. Clients in the Dakshina Kannada district on 3 March are advised to anticipate travel disruptions and avoid all strike-related activity as a precaution.

PAKISTAN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 1 March; Fatalities reported following bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

At least 14 people were killed and several others injured in a roadside bombing in the Jamrud Tehsil area of the Khyber Agency, located in Pakistan's north western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on 1 March. The bomb targeted a convoy transporting health workers involved in a polio vaccination drive; the majority of the victims appear to be the security forces which made up the aid workers' security escort. No claims of responsibility have been made. There is an extreme threat of terrorism throughout Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, due to a heavy Islamist militant presence in the region. Acts of terrorism in this area are generally claimed by or attributed to Tehreek-i-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) militants. However, another group (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) has conducted a number of high-profile attacks on civilian targets in recent months. Security forces and civilians are most frequently targeted. Several of the militant groups operating in the area have stated their intention to target the polio vaccination operations in the province. A threat to foreign nationals also exists. Due to a number of security concerns, including the threat of terrorism, clients are advised against all travel to Pakistan. Persons in or planning to travel to the country are advised to implement robust personal, travel and residential security measures at all times.

PAKISTAN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 3 March; Gunfire and explosions reported at district court in Islamabad

At least 11 people were killed in a shooting incident in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on 3 March. The incident took place at a district court, located in the city's F-8 sector. Further details are currently unavailable; however, reports indicate that two explosions were heard in the vicinity of the court; these are understood to have been suicide bombings. The immediate area has been evacuated. Although the motivation for the attack remains unclear, the incident underscores the protracted levels of insecurity in Pakistan, including in Islamabad. Insecurity in the country stems primarily from the extreme threat of terrorism. A number of Islamist terrorist groups operate in the country; these elements carry out frequent attacks in locations throughout Pakistan, aimed at various targets. Although the affiliation of the assailants involved in the latest attack is unconfirmed, the possibility that they form part of such militant groups is likely. Nevertheless, the likelihood that those responsible form part of a self-radicalised group motivated by personal grievances with proceedings at the court cannot be discounted. Although the capital has proven to be less affected by terrorist attacks in recent months, the developing situation illustrates that the threat of attack by both militant groups and self-radicalised groups persists. Increased security measures in the vicinity of the court are anticipated. Due to a number of security concerns, including the threat of terrorism, clients are advised against all travel to Pakistan. Persons in or planning to travel to the country are advised to implement robust personal, travel and residential security measures at all times. Clients currently in Islamabad are advised to avoid the affected part of the city and should expect increased security throughout the capital. Clients are also advised to monitor local media for developments and possible advisories regarding the situation.

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Europe and Russia

ITALY (Country risk rating: Medium); 5 March; Union-led strike to disrupt public transport in urban centres

Public transport employees represented by the ORSA labour union are expected to embark on a 24-hour general strike, on 5 March. The industrial action is expected to be observed in Italy's capital, Rome, as well as in Milan; strike-related disruptions in other major urban centres are possible. Italy's public transport sector is regularly affected by work stoppages and strike action. These are generally organised in response to austerity and deregulation reforms implemented by the government, as well as by specific labour disputes. Although the affected transport providers are likely to implement contingency plans to minimise the impact of the anticipated labour actions, significant disruptions, including delays and cancellations to various scheduled services, should be anticipated in the affected areas. Increased traffic congestion and heightened demand for alternative transport options should also be anticipated. Clients planning travel in Italy on 5 March are advised to monitor local media for further information regarding the planned actions and should prepare for travel disruptions.

UKRAINE (Country risk rating: High); 28 February to 2 March; (Update) Armed forces on combat alert amid security developments in Crimea

Authorities in Ukraine placed its armed forces on full combat alert and called up military reserves on 2 March amid increasing insecurity in Crimea. Reports of unidentified armed personnel seizing key infrastructure (both civilian and military) in Crimea since 27 February continue to fuel speculation and tensions in the region. Uncorroborated reports have suggested the forces include pro-Russia militia, defected members of the Ukrainian armed forces and possibly Russian armed forces. Tensions have increased significantly in eastern Ukraine, and in Crimea specifically, since the ousting of former president, Viktor Yanukovych, on 22 February. Social, ethnic and linguistic divisions among pro-Western and pro-Russia residents are pronounced in Crimea, where the majority of residents are Russian-speaking. Separatist sentiment has been fuelled further by an announcement by the new Chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers, Sergey Aksenov, that a referendum on the status of the region will be held on 30 March; the referendum had previously been mooted to coincide with national elections, scheduled for 25 May. Aksenov is also believed to have requested Russian assistance in 'maintaining peace and tranquillity' in Crimea, while disavowing Ukraine's interim government. Russia reportedly commenced to increase its deployment of armed forces to the country's naval base near Sevastopol in southern Crimea, where the country's Black Sea Fleet is largely based, on 28 February. In addition, Russia's Parliament unanimously approved the deployment of military forces to Ukraine, as requested by President Vladimir Putin, on 1 March. No armed confrontations have been reported to date; however, the security situation in Crimea is currently deemed highly volatile and fluid, and may deteriorate rapidly in response to developments. Accordingly, all travel to Ukraine's Crimea region is currently advised against. Clients currently in Crimea should consider departing via commercial means where safe and possible to do so.

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Middle East and North Africa

ALGERIA (Country risk rating: High); 2 March; Militants killed in security operation in Tizi Ouzou province

According to reports released on 3 March, security forces in Algeria killed at least three militants during a security operation in the Sidi Ali Bounab area of Tizi Ouzou province, approximately 95km east of the capital, Algiers, on 2 March. Military operations, small-scale clashes and low-level bombings targeting the Algerian security forces are regularly reported in provinces east of Algiers, specifically in Boumerdes, Tizi Ouzou and Bouira. Many of the militants in the region are aligned with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)'s northern branch. The number of AQIM militants operating in northern Algeria is estimated to be between 200 and 400 operatives. The group also operates a southern arm in southern Algeria, northern Mali, Niger and parts of Mauritania. AQIM militants regularly target government and security force interests in this region; Algerian security force operations against militant positions are relatively common. The deaths or arrests of militants as a result of military operations can trigger reprisals by militant groups. Possible means of attack include low-level bombings and shootings. In addition, further confrontations between security forces and militants may occur in the region in the near-term. Should this occur, these are likely to take place in secondary towns, villages or rural areas. In addition, security force operations in the above-mentioned provinces may result in an increase in the number of security checkpoints. Clients in the northern regions of the country, particularly in provinces in the immediate vicinity of Algiers and extending east towards the Tunisia border, are advised to implement heightened security precautions at all times and should consider air travel between urban destinations rather than road travel. There is an elevated threat of terrorism and kidnapping in this area, particularly outside of major towns and cities.

LIBYA (Country risk rating: High); 2 March; French national killed in armed attack in Benghazi

State officials in Libya have confirmed the death of a French national following an attack by gunmen in an undisclosed area of the north eastern city of Benghazi on 2 March. It is unclear if this particular incident was criminally motivated or if the victim was killed for another reason, possibly related to anti-Western sentiment among some armed groups in the country. Despite the lack of information available, this case does serve to highlight the high-risk operating environment in the country. Several security threats, including crime, terrorism and civil unrest, have been heightened since the 2011 overthrow of the regime of long-serving leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi. Amid general insecurity, foreign nationals have been directly targeted by non-state armed groups. This is highlighted by a number of recent cases, including the December murder of a US national, also in Benghazi, and the early January murder of two foreign nationals on a beach near Sabratha. Most recently, the bodies of seven Egyptian nationals were discovered on a beach in the Jarhoutha area of Benghazi on 24 February following their earlier abduction from an apartment building in the city. The seven men had all been bound and executed by unidentified assailants. The majority of these incidents have taken place in the capital, Tripoli, and Benghazi; however, various other areas of the country are susceptible to attacks of this nature. Due to the insecurity in the country, particularly the north east, further targeted attacks are anticipated. Clients are advised against all non-essential travel to Libya. Persons in the country are advised to implement robust security measures, including making provision for a security escort. Foreign nationals are further advised to maintain a low public profile, particularly outside of the capital.

LIBYA (Country risk rating: High); 1 to 3 March; Further protests possible following storming of GNC in Tripoli

Further protests are anticipated in the vicinity of the General National Congress (GNC) in Libya's capital, Tripoli, following recent protests and violence near the legislature building on 1 and 2 March. Anti-government demonstrations were reported near the GNC building, located in the vicinity of the Rixos Hotel, on the aforementioned dates. The protesters stormed the GNC on 2 March following the arrest of a number of anti-government demonstrators on 1 March. The arrests have been described by the protesters as 'abductions'. The demonstrators had gathered on 1 March to denounce the government's perceived inaction over a recent wave of insecurity in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna and to demand the dissolution of the GNC. During the protest escalation on 2 March, protesters stormed the GNC building, attacked legislators and damaged property in the GNC area. At least two legislators were reportedly wounded. The unrest near the GNC is not unusual. The legislature has been stormed and occupied in the past by demonstrators and militiamen. The recent events, however, which include attacks on legislators, is considered significant. Further demonstrations are anticipated in the vicinity of the GNC over the near-term. These may escalate should the protesters detained on 1 March not be released. In addition, calls for the GNC to resign, which have increased in frequency in 2014, may increase further in light of recent events. Persons in Tripoli should also anticipate increased security near the GNC over the near-term. Additional security measures could include patrols and checkpoints. Clients are advised against all non-essential travel to Libya. Persons in the capital are advised to avoid the vicinity of the GNC in the coming days, all large crowds in the city and security force personnel and facilities. Clients should travel with a security escort and during the day only.

SYRIA (Country risk rating: Extreme); 2 March; (Update) Spanish national released following kidnapping in Hama

A Spanish national, who was in the country as a journalist and was kidnapped in the western city of Hama, capital of Syria's Hama governorate, on 24 September 2013, was released on 2 March. It has been confirmed that the kidnapping was perpetrated by militants linked to Islamist extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There is an extreme threat of kidnapping in Syria, which stems largely from Islamist extremist groups, such as ISIL. Both locals and foreign nationals, including civilians, journalists and aid workers, have been targeted by numerous pro- and anti-government armed groups, as well as criminal groups. Given the number of armed groups in Syria and the ongoing insecurity caused by the civil war, further attempted and actual abductions of foreign nationals should be anticipated in the short-term at least. All travel to Syria is advised against. Clients in the country are advised to depart where safe to do so. Persons remaining in Syria should adopt stringent security measures at all times, including ensuring that compounds are secure and that travel is conducted with a security escort.

YEMEN (Country risk rating: Extreme); 28 February; Houthis clash with government and al-Islah militia forces

Clashes were reported between Shiite Houthi rebels and government forces supported by fighters loyal to the al-Islah party in Yemen's northern al-Jawf governorate on 28 February. The confrontations, over control of local government offices, reportedly occurred in the governorate capital, al-Hazm, and left at least 24 people dead. The reported fighting follows weeks after the end of severe conflict between Houthi rebels and Salafist militias in the nearby Amran governorate. The fighting in Amran initially pitted the Houthis against Salafist gunmen in Dammaj; however, the Houthis later engaged tribesmen affiliated with the Hashid tribal federation, led by Sadiq al-Ahmar, further south. The Houthis accused the Hashid, specifically the al-Ahmar clan, of supporting the Salafists. A ceasefire was agreed to in early February and fighting has largely ceased in Amran. The recent outbreak of violence in al-Jawf involves the al-Islah party. The party is Salafist in ideology and is linked to Sadiq al-Ahmar. A connection between the recent and past conflict remains probable. It should also be noted that the Houthis have been attempting to expand their territory in the north for a number of years. Houthi expansion has been most noticeable in the Saada, Amran, al-Jawf and Hajjah governorates. The security situation in northern Yemen remains tenuous and further outbreaks of conflict are likely over the medium-term. Clients are advised against all travel to Yemen, excluding the Socotra archipelago. Persons in Yemen are advised to travel with a security escort and reside in secure compounds or hotels. Travel in the far north should only be conducted following consultation with the local authorities. Air travel should be considered as an alternative to overland road travel.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (Country risk rating: High); 1 to 3 March; Security forces combat ongoing insecurity in North Kivu

The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) together with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) have launched several military operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s North Kivu province since 1 March. These have targeted rebel strongholds in the restive province. In the largest offensive, MONUSCO troops launched an air strike on the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) contingents based near Mbau, located approximately 25km north of Beni. In a second assault, FARDC troops and members of the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) rebel group clashed in Nyabiondo. Although casualty numbers remain unconfirmed at this stage, several hundred residents have fled to neighbouring localities due to the violence. The assaults underscore the ongoing effort by FARDC and MOUNSCO forces to combat insecurity in the province. Several armed groups are operational in North Kivu and frequently carry out attacks against government forces and the local population. Despite the ongoing efforts to end conflict in the region, a quick resolution to the ongoing hostilities is unlikely. This is largely due to the diversity in the composition of armed rebel groups in North Kivu, as well as the protracted nature of conflict in this region. Insecurity in the region is likely to continue in the medium-term at least. Due to various security concerns, particularly the extreme threat of conflict, all travel to North Kivu province is advised against. Persons currently in the region should ensure that robust security measures are in place.

NIGERIA (Country risk rating: High); 1 March; Casualties reported following attacks in central Borno State

According to reports, up to 39 people were killed during an attack perpetrated by uniformed gunmen late on 1 March in the town of Mainok, central Borno State, north eastern Nigeria. The gunmen reportedly drove through the village firing rocket-propelled grenades and opening fire on residents returning from evening prayers. Mainok is located 50km west of the state's capital city, Maiduguri. Latest reports following twin bombings in Maiduguri on 1 March indicate that the death toll has increased overnight from 10 to 50 fatalities; the bombings targeted a crowded market situated near the city's airport. Although no group has claimed responsibility, it remains most likely that both incidents were orchestrated by militants aligned with the Boko Haram extremist movement. Despite ongoing efforts by security forces, the group has a significant operational presence in Borno State, particularly in and around Maiduguri, and has conducted numerous attacks of this nature in several urban centres in north eastern Nigeria in recent years. Targets of such attacks commonly include Christian places of worship, security installations, government buildings and entertainment establishments; however, no area is considered immune. It should be noted that further militant activity is possible in the vicinity of both Mainok and Maiduguri at this time. Additionally, further attacks in the greater Borno State area should also be anticipated in the short- to medium-term. Due to various security concerns, including the threat of terrorism, all travel to Borno State is advised against. Persons intending to travel to the state despite this advisory should implement robust security precautions at all times.

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