Worldview Security Update – September 23, 2019
23-Sep-19

AMERICAS

Bermuda / Lesser Antilles (Security threat levels – 1 / 1): As of 1200 UTC on 23 September 2019, Tropical Storm Jerry was located approximately 575 km (355 mi) south-southwest of Bermuda and was moving north-northwest at about 11 kph (7 mph). At that time, Jerry was generating maximum sustained winds of 100 kph with higher gusts. The storm is expected to pass near Bermuda on 24 September, causing tropical storm conditions throughout the island. Jerry previously strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane on 19 September before weakening again to a tropical storm on the morning of 21 September. The storm caused heavy rainfall in the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico.

A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for Bermuda. Jerry is expected to produce 25-75 mm (1-3 in) of rainfall across Bermuda on 25 September. Storm-generated swells are increasing along the coast of Bermuda and will likely affect portions of the northern Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico until 25 September. Swells may cause hazardous surf and riptide conditions.

Lesser Antilles / Puerto Rico (Security threat levels – 1 / 2): As of 1200 UTC on 23 September 2019, Tropical Storm Karen was located approximately 360 km (225 mi) west-northwest of St. Vincent island and about 390 km south of St. Croix. At that time, Karen was generating maximum sustained winds of 65 kph (40 mph) with higher gusts and was moving northwest at about 13 kph. Karen is projected to pass over or near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on 24 September. On 22 September Karen downed trees, caused street flooding and prompted power outages on the island of Tobago — especially in the town of Scarborough and other areas in the southwestern part of the island — during its passage just north of the island. However, there were no reports of casualties.

Karen is expected to produce 25-50 mm (1-2 in) of rain, with isolated maximums of up to 205 mm, in the Windward Islands, while Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are expected to receive 50-100 mm of rain, with isolated maximums of 150 mm. Additionally, the Leeward Islands are expected to receive 25-75 mm of rain, with isolated maximums of 125 mm. These rainfall totals may cause flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in mountainous areas.

At present, a Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Puerto Rico — including Vieques and Culbera — and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A Tropical Storm Watch remains in effect for the British Virgin Islands.

Nicaragua (Security threat level – 4): At approximately 2000 local time on 21 September 2019 (0200 UTC on 22 September), a number of small-scale explosions occurred in Nicaragua. An explosion caused moderate damage to the bridge leading to Port Corinto, a key port in the northern Chinandega province. Additional blasts occurred in the capital Managua and the nearby city of Masaya at approximately the same time; no damage was reported in either of these cities. The bridge connecting the port to rest of the country has since been repaired and is operating as normal. Nicaraguan Patriotic Alliance (APN), a little-known opposition group, claimed responsibility for the attacks and stated it would continue to carry out similar attacks until the ouster of President Daniel Ortega.

United States (Security threat level – 2): On the morning of 20 September 2019, a tour bus with 30 Chinese tourists and a U.S. driver on board crashed on State Route 12 near Bryce Canyon National Park, located in the southern part of the U.S. state of Utah. The crash occurred approximately 7 mi (11 km) from the park entrance and prompted police officers to temporarily shut down the main route leading to the park. At least four Chinese tourists were killed and 27 others, including the driver, suffered injuries; five of those injured remain in critical condition. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. The bus belongs to the California-based firm America Shengjia Inc.

ASIA

China (Security threat level – 3): Over the weekend of 21-22 September 2019, a number of anti-government protests in Hong Kong turned violent. On 22 September police officers clashed with protesters near the New Town Plaza shopping center in Sha Tin district, located in the New Territories region. Protesters had gathered in the mall and had vandalized businesses before officers deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Protesters also caused damage to shopping malls in other parts of Hong Kong, including in Kwai Fong, Sham Shui Po and West Kowloon districts. Activists also targeted a number of Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations, including the Kowloon, Kwai Fong, Nam Cheong, Sha Tin and Tsing Yi stations. The Kowloon, Kwai Fong and Tsing Yi stations were temporarily closed as a result of damage sustained; however, operations at those stations resumed on 23 September. Although demonstrators also attempted to conduct a “stress test” of Hong Kong International Airport (VHHH/HKG) by blocking access routes to the airport, a significant number of police officers who were deployed along these routes prevented protesters from gathering at the airport.

Meanwhile, on 21 September police officers deployed tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who had gathered in the Tuen Mun area, located in the New Territories region. A small number of the protesters reportedly vandalized the Tuen Mun Light Rail Depot and threw stones and at least one Molotov cocktail toward police officers. The clashes followed a larger march earlier in the day, which began at San Wo Lane playground and concluded at the Tuen Mun government offices. Authorities closed the Tuen Mun MTR station amid the protests. At 1500 local time (0700 UTC), authorities closed the Yuen Long MTR station ahead of a planned sit-in at the location at 1900 local time; however, protesters instead gathered at the adjacent Yoho Mall. The protest was initially peaceful, although protesters erected barricades along Fung Cheung road and Castle Peak road, causing traffic disruptions. As riot police officers attempted to clear the area, protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. Officers fired tear gas at the crowd in response. However, there were no reports of significant injuries during the violence on 21-22 September.

In a related development on 20 September, demonstrators peacefully gathered at the University of Hong Kong to urge the U.S. government to pass legislation in support of the ongoing anti-government protests.

A number of protest actions are also planned for the upcoming week of 23-29 September. Beginning at 2000 local time on 27 September, a demonstration is scheduled to occur at Chater Garden in Central district to protest alleged abuses of arrested protesters in detention centers. Organizers of the event have applied for a Letter of No Objection. Protesters previously announced that they would launch a “stress test” at Hong Kong International Airport on 28 September. Previous tests have had mixed results, but an increased security presence along routes to the airport — as well as transportation disruptions could occur — if the protest action proceeds as planned. Separately, a protest march from Causeway Bay to the Central Government Offices is expected to begin at 1500 local time on 28 September. Organizers have not applied for a Letter of No Objection. The fifth anniversary of the “Umbrella Revolution” also falls on 28 September. While there have been no confirmed demonstrations, it is likely that there will be large-scale protests in Hong Kong. Demonstration plans frequently change over the course of the week and impromptu protests are also common. Travelers in Hong Kong should closely follow local developments and avoid all large gatherings as a precaution.

Japan (Security threat level – 1): According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), as of 0900 UTC on 23 September 2019, Tropical Storm Tapah was located approximately 135 km (83 mi) north-northwest of Iwakuni and was moving northeast at 44 kph (28 mph). At that time, Tapah was generating maximum sustained winds of 102 kph with gusts of up to 130 kph. Currently, Tapah is forecast to cross over the island of Hokkaido during the early hours of 24 September before dissipating in the Pacific Ocean. The storm caused power outages in approximately 30,000 homes and businesses in the region. There were at least 50 storm-related injuries in Okinawa and the Kyushu region.

EUROPE

Albania (Security threat level – 3): At approximately 1605 local time (1405 UTC) on 21 September 2019, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck approximately 6 km (4 mi) north of the port city of Durres, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The quake occurred at a depth of 10 km. The tremor caused power outages and disrupted water supply in Durres and in the capital Tirana, which is located approximately 30 km to the east; in addition, residents in some central and western districts of the country were also affected. Approximately 600 homes in the region sustained shaking-related damage and as many as 105 people were injured; the majority of injuries were reported in Durres and Tirana. However, there were no reports of fatalities. Following the initial quake, the country’s Institute of Geosciences, Energy, Water and Environment has recorded more than 340 aftershocks.

France (Security threat level – 3): On 21 September 2019, thousands of people participated in demonstrations at a number of locations in Paris. The protest actions comprised the 45th consecutive weekend of “yellow vest” demonstrations, climate change demonstrations, and union protests over pension reform. Police officers clashed with “yellow vest” protesters on Champs-Élysées avenue following a Bastille Day military parade in the city after protesters attempted to occupy and block the avenue. Protesters also threw projectiles at police officers, set fire to trash bins and barricades, and broke windows of businesses along the street. In response, police officers deployed tear gas and pepper spray, forcing the protesters to retreat to side streets and erect new roadblocks. Minor clashes also occurred at Gare Saint-Lazare and Place de la Madeleine. Government officials attributed the violence to the “black bloc” anarchist group. At least 163 people were arrested during the protests, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

Spain (Security threat level – 3): On 23 September 2019, Guardia Civil announced that it arrested at least nine members of the Defense Committees of the Republic (CDR) — a secessionist group — during security raids at a number of locations in the northeastern Catalonia region. Police officers searched the homes of the CDR members and discovered materials used for making explosives as well as other documents and computer equipment. Investigators claim that the CDR members were planning an attack with “lethal capacity” on 1 October, to coincide with the second anniversary of Catalonia’s self-determination referendum. The CDR has called on its supporters to stage protests in the city of Sabadella, located nearly 30 km (20 mi) from Barcelona, against the arrests on the evening of 23 September.

United Kingdom (Security threat level – 3): The Thomas Cook travel firm has ceased all operations, after declaring bankruptcy on the morning of 23 September 2019. Approximately 600,000 people have been left stranded after the U.K.-based firm canceled all of its bookings, including flights and holidays. At least 50,000 people have been stranded in Greece, 30,000 in the Canary Islands, 21,000 in Turkey and 15,000 in Cyprus. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that the firm has ceased all trading and will cease all operations. The CAA has also stated that it will arrange aircraft to transport approximately 150,000 stranded U.K. residents back to the U.K. over the next two weeks. Thomas Cook was one of the most prominent tour operators, running hotels, resorts and airlines in at least 16 different countries. The firm previously settled on a 2.1 billion U.S. dollar recapitalization plan with its shareholder Fosun in August 2019; however, agreements fell through, forcing the company to liquidate its assets.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Egypt (Security threat level – 4): On 23 September 2019, reports emerged that Egyptian security forces have launched a large-scale crackdown on civil society activists following small-scale anti-government protests across the country, including in the capital Cairo, on 20 and 21 September. Reports indicate that security forces have arrested at least 370 people following the protests.

The protests began overnight on 20-21 September, when several hundred people gathered in central Cairo to protest against the Egyptian government and to demand the resignation of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Police officers near Tahrir Square deployed tear gas to disperse the group and closed several main roads leading to the square. There were no reports of significant injuries among protesters or police officers. Similar gatherings were also held in several other Egyptian cities, including Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura. Additional anti-government demonstrations occurred on 21 September, when hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of Suez for a second consecutive night to demand the resignation of the president. Police officers clashed with demonstrators in Arbaeen Square and deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Reports from Cairo on 21 September indicate that protesters were unable to gather in the city due to a heavy security force presence in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Despite the crackdown, further nationwide protests are planned for 27 September; Cairo will likely be the epicenter for the 27 September protests. Travelers should continue to monitor the situation closely.

Analyst Comment: The immediate cause for the demonstrations appears to be a series of videos released by a former Egyptian military contractor detailing alleged corruption by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi and his close associates. It remains unknown how activists are organizing the demonstrations and the initial reaction of security forces indicates they were not anticipating the demonstrations.

Oman (Security threat level – 2): At approximately 0900 UTC on 23 September 2019, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) issued a Tropical Cyclone Warning for the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman regarding Tropical Cyclone Hikka. The warning indicates that Hikka is currently located about 605 km (375 mi) east of Masirah Island in Oman and is tracking westward towards the Omani coast. Currently, the storm has maximum sustained winds of 101 kph (63 mph) with gusts of up to 139 kph. Hikka is expected to strengthen before it makes landfall on Masirah Island by the early hours of 25 September.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Ethiopia (Security threat level – 4): On 20 September 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows:
“Location: Addis Ababa
“Event: Irreecha (Oromo Thanksgiving) Celebrations, including the Irreecha Peace Run, September 22-October 6, 2019. “The kick-off to the holiday festivities is the Irreecha Peace Run in Addis Ababa. Beginning at 0600 and concluding around noon on Sunday, September 22. The race is expected to draw 50,000 participants. The route runs from Meskel Square – Mexico Square – Kera – Gotera/Confusion Square – Debrezeit Road – ending back at Meskel Square. The race routes will be closed to vehicle traffic and drivers should anticipate all arteries leading into or roads running parallel to the route will have heavy vehicular and pedestrian congestion.
“Also be aware of other scheduled Irreecha Celebrations in and around Addis Ababa:

  • October 4, 2019 Carnival – Addis Ababa
  • October 5, 2019 Irreecha celebrated in Addis Ababa at Meskel Square
  • October 6, 2019 Irreecha celebrated in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit)

"Due to tensions in the Oromia region, there is a chance demonstrations may occur at the race, which has historically been held in Oromia but is happening for the first time in Addis Ababa."

Greece (Security threat level – 3): On 23 September 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Athens issued a Demonstration Alert, which reads in part as follows:
“Location: Throughout Greece
“Event: Public service employees, municipal employees, mass media employees, public school teachers, public transportation, ferries and air traffic controllers plan to hold a 24 hour strike, beginning at 06:00 on Tuesday morning, on September 24, 2019. Public hospitals and ambulance service will operate with reduced staff.”

Haiti (Security threat level – 4): On 23 September 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows:

"Location: Gerald Bataille

"Events: Reports of burning tires at Gerald Bataille"

Peru (Security threat level – 3): On 20 September 2019, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice for Peru, which reads in part as follows: “On 19 September, the government declared a 60 day state of emergency due to the risk of collapse of part of the Costa Verde cliff in Lima. The affected areas lie in the districts of San Miguel, Magdalena del Mar, San Isidro, Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Authorities are taking action to reduce the risk but you should follow their advice in the area.”