Traveling In An Era of Extremism: What To Do To Keep Yourself Safe
I remember when terrorism was associated with war-torn countries like Afghanistan or South Sudan, but as we’ve seen, schools, places of worship and tourist destinations in any city can be targets for violent extremism.
Whether led by militant Islamist fighters or white supremacists, terror attacks are geared to affect as many people as possible in a symbolic location to send a strong political message and spread debilitating fear. That was the goal of the attacks on traditionally safe spaces in Sri Lanka and New Zealand—countries with no history with international terror groups.
Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people and the March 15 mosque shootings in New Zealand where 51 people died were inspired by different ideologies but had the same purpose: Mass murder. The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the former, which was recovering from a brutal civil war that ended 10 years ago, while a self-professed white supremacist from Australia faces murder charges in Christchurch.
The timing of these incidents is also haunting because of the international release of the movie Hotel Mumbai, about the 2008 terror attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India as part of 12 coordinated attacks throughout Mumbai that left more than 160 people dead.
In the United States, recent mass shootings on campuses in Colorado and North Carolina and a synagogue attack in California are the latest incidents in a long history of gun violence associated with white nationalist or far right rhetoric.
The Philippines, meantime, continues to grapple with threats from extremists fighting to create a caliphate for Islamic State, as we mark the second anniversary of the Marawi siege on May 23.
What doesn’t get as much attention are the attacks that are prevented by intelligence and law enforcement officials. For every incident that is reported, hundreds more are thwarted. So what may seem like widespread violence across the world isn’t necessarily the case. Fear shouldn’t prevent us from living our lives. That is how terrorists win.
We can never really know when or where an attack will happen, but we can be mindful about our security situation, whether we’re a tourist traveling on holiday or a student or migrant worker living in a new country. It is also important to talk to our children about this harsh new reality, especially for those who plan to attend college overseas. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
BEFORE YOU GO
Research your destination. Identify high risk areas and the current threat level. Look for travel advisories and read news reports to gauge the mood and security situation.
Discuss your itinerary and emergency plan with your family. Leave a copy of your passport, important documents such as bank information and insurance, and a detailed itinerary with information for all accommodations and local contacts. Agree on a plan for communicating with your family in the event of an emergency.
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DURING YOUR VISIT
Build a local support network. Carry a copy of your passport. Collect contact information for your hotel or host, your nearest diplomatic mission and other trusted local contacts. Take note of nearby police stations and hospitals. Update your emergency plan with your family.
Monitor the local news. Watch and read local media for security threats and heed any warnings.
Be alert in crowded areas. When visiting tourist attractions or attending events with large crowds, be mindful of suspicious activity. Note exit routes and agree on a plan to communicate and find others in your group in an emergency. Be aware of people following or observing you.
Maintain a low profile. Don’t give out personal information to strangers or leave out identifying documents in hotels and public places. Avoid bringing attention to yourself as a foreigner or tourist.
Be mindful of your transportation. Book drivers and cars through reliable sources like your host or hotel. Take note of your taxi driver’s face and plate number. Know your route before taking public transportation.
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IF A TERROR ATTACK HAPPENS
Stay calm and get to safety quickly. Stay low to avoid gunfire. Run or seek shelter and notify authorities.
Follow your emergency plan. Contact your family and make necessary travel adjustments.
Contact your local embassy if you're injured or need emergency assistance.
With terror groups weaponizing social media to spread extremist material and recruit vulnerable individuals, we can expect more potential attackers to feel empowered. While we can’t entirely avoid violence across the world, we can take control of our own security and those of our families when we travel or live in other countries. And that takes the power away from terrorists.