Terrorist acts occur at random and unpredictably, making it impossible to protect yourself absolutely. The first and best protection is to avoid travel to unsafe areas where there has been a persistent record of terrorist attacks or kidnapping. The vast majority of foreign states have good records of maintaining public order and protecting residents and visitors within their borders from terrorism.
Most terrorist attacks are the result of long and careful planning. Just as a car thief will first be attracted to an unlocked car with the key in the ignition, terrorists are looking for defenseless, easily accessible targets who follow predictable patterns. The chances that a tourist, traveling with an unpublished program or itinerary, would be the victim of terrorism are slight. In addition, many terrorist groups, seeking publicity for political causes within their own country or region, may not be looking for American targets.
Avoiding Risky Situations
Nevertheless, the following pointers may help you avoid becoming a target of opportunity. They should be considered as adjuncts to the tips listed in the other Travel Documents on how to protect yourself against the far greater likelihood of being a victim of crime. These precautions may provide some degree of protection, and can serve as practical and psychological deterrents to would-be terrorists.
· Schedule direct flights if possible and avoid stops in high-risk airports or areas. Consider other options for travel, such as trains.
· Be aware of what you discuss with strangers or what may be overheard by others.
· Try to minimize the time spent in the public area of an airport, which is a less protected area. Move quickly from the check-in counter to the secured areas. On arrival, leave the airport as soon as possible.
· As much as possible, avoid luggage tags, dress and behavior that may identify you as an American.
· Keep an eye out for suspicious abandoned packages or briefcases. Report them to airport security or other authorities and leave the area promptly.
· Avoid obvious terrorist targets such as places where Americans and Westerners are known to congregate.
Travel to High-Risk Areas
If you must travel in an area where there has been a history of terrorist attacks or kidnapping, make it a habit to:
· Discuss with your family what they would do in the event of an emergency. Make sure your affairs are in order before leaving home.
· Register with the U.S. embassy or consulate upon arrival.
· Remain friendly but be cautious about discussing personal matters, your itinerary or program.
· Leave no personal or business papers in your hotel room.
· Watch for people following you or “loiterers” observing your comings and goings.
· Keep a mental note of safe havens, such as police stations, hotels, hospitals.
· Let someone else know what your travel plans are. Keep them informed if you change your plans.
· Avoid predictable times and routes of travel and report any suspicious activity to local police, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
· Select your own taxi cabs at random. Don’t take a vehicle that is not clearly identified as a taxi. Compare the face of the driver with the one posted on his or her license.
· If possible, travel with others.
· Be sure of the identity of visitors before opening the door of your hotel room. Don’t meet strangers at unknown or remote locations.
· Refuse unexpected packages.
· Formulate a plan of action for what you will do if a bomb explodes or there is gunfire nearby.
· Check for loose wires or other suspicious activity around your car.
· Be sure your vehicle is in good operating condition in case you need to resort to high-speed or evasive driving.
· Drive with car windows closed in crowded streets. Bombs can be thrown through open windows.
· If you are ever in a situation where somebody starts shooting, drop to the floor or get down as low as possible. Don’t move until you are sure the danger has passed. Do not attempt to help rescuers and do not pick up a weapon. If possible, shield yourself behind or under a solid object. If you must move, crawl on your stomach.
While every hostage situation is different, some considerations are important.
The U.S. government’s policy is firm. We will negotiate, but not make concessions – to do so would only increase the risk of further hostage-taking. When Americans are abducted overseas, we look to the host government to exercise its responsibility under international law to protect all persons within its territories and to bring about the safe release of hostages. We work closely with these governments from the outset of a hostage-taking incident to ensure that our citizens and other innocent victims are released as quickly and safely as possible.
Normally, the most dangerous phases of a hijacking or hostage situation are the beginning and, if there is a rescue attempt, the end. At the outset, the terrorists typically are tense, high-strung and may behave irrationally. It is extremely important that you remain calm and alert and manage your own behavior.
– Avoid resistance and sudden or threatening movements. Do not struggle or try to escape unless you are certain of being successful.
· Make a concerted effort to relax. Prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the possibility of a long ordeal.
· Try to remain inconspicuous, avoid direct eye contact and the appearance of observing your captors’ actions.
· Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consume little food and drink.
· Consciously put yourself in a mode of passive cooperation. Talk normally. Do not complain, avoid belligerency, and comply with all orders and instructions.
· If questioned, keep your answers short. Don’t volunteer information or make unnecessary overtures.
· Don’t try to be a hero, endangering yourself and others.
· Maintain your sense of personal dignity and gradually increase your requests for personal comforts. Make these requests in a reasonable low-key manner.
· If you are involved in a lengthier, drawn-out situation, try to establish a rapport with your captors, avoiding political discussions or other confrontational subjects.
· Establish a daily program of mental and physical activity. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything you need or want – medicines, books, pencils, papers.
· Eat what they give you, even if it does not look or taste appetizing. A loss of appetite and weight is normal.
· Think positively. Avoid a sense of despair. Rely on your inner resources. Remember that you are a valuable commodity to your captors. It is important to them to keep you alive and well.
The above information is excerpted from the Consular Affairs Publications.