East Africa emerges as important front in war on terror

Published 4 September 2007

Deteriorating security situation along the east Africa coast leads U.S. government to issue strong warning about travel, shipping in the region

The countries along the east African coast continue to be a source of concern when it comes to terrorism. Somalia has not been functioning as a state for decade now, and the anarchical situation there has been a magent for Islamic organizations no longer able to operate with as much freedom in Afghanistan as they could before 9/11 (although the tribal areas in north-west Pakistan now offer similar freedom). The situation in Somalia has been complicated by the growing involvement of Eritrea in supllying the Islamic forces. The U.S. Department of State, taking all that into account, has issued a reminded — in the form of a Public Reminder — to U.S. travalers of the continuing potential for terrorist actions against U.S. citizens in east Africa, particularly along the East African coast, to alert Americans to continuing sporadic violence in Somalia, and to note a number of incidents of maritime piracy near the horn of Africa and the southern Red Sea. This latest reminder supersedes the Public Announcement of 4 January 2007, and expires on 29 February 2008.

A number of al-Qaida operatives and other extremists are operating in and around east Africa. As a result of U.S. and Ethiopian actions in Somalia — some covert, some overt — some of these individuals have sought to relocate elsewhere in the region, and others may seek to do so. These terrorist continue to be a threat even as they disperse, and their actions may include suicide operations, bombings, kidnappings, or targeting maritime vessels. “Increased security at official U.S. facilities has led terrorists to seek softer targets such as hotels, beach resorts, prominent public places, and landmarks,” the public reminder says. In particular, terrorists may target civil aviation and seaports. Americans in remote areas or border regions where military or police authority is limited or non-existent could also become targets. The reminder continues:

Americans considering seaborne travel near the Horn of Africa or in the southern Red Sea should exercise extreme caution, as there have been several incidents of armed attacks, robberies, and kidnappings for ransom at sea by pirates during the past several years. Merchant vessels continue to be hijacked in Somali territorial waters, while others have been hijacked as far as 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia in international waters.

The U.S. government maritime authorities advise mariners to avoid the port of Mogadishu, and to remain at least 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. In addition, when transiting around the Horn of Africa or in the Red Sea, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys, and maintain good communications contact at all times.

What if your business does take you to east Africa? The department strongly urges U.S. citizens planning to travel to east Africa to consult the Department of State’s country-specific Public Announcements, Travel Warnings, Consular Information Sheets, the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement and other information. Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.