al qaida video .
(photo credit: AP via IntelCenter)
Thousands of Israelis visiting the popular Indian resort of Goa, many of them freshly out of the army, have been urged to return home immediately amid warnings of an al-Qaida terrorist plot.
The security warning for all Israelis traveling in and around Goa was issued on Wednesday by the Foreign Ministry and the Counter-Terrorism Division of the National Security Council. The statement said the warning was based on intelligence information of a specific al-Qaida threat against tourists.
"As part of the existing al-Qaida terror threat in India, there is currently a concrete threat concentrated in the Goa region, where hundreds of travelers, including Israelis, gather for holidays at the end of the year," a ministry statement said.
The statement advised all Israeli citizens to refrain from vacationing in Goa and to avoid crowded tourist sites in the region at least until the end of December.
Noah Saban, 25, an Israeli who spent four months living in Goa, said on Wednesday that this was the peak season for tourists avoiding the cold winter months to bask in the warmth of southern India's beach climate.
"There are a lot of families from Israel and all over the world in Goa, and as soon as [al-Qaida] attacks, they will hurt a lot of people from all over the world, not just Israel," Saban told The Jerusalem Post. "This is a threat not just against Israel, but a threat against the world."
When asked if he thought that Israelis should heed the ministry's call to return to Israel, he responded by saying "the minute we show that we are afraid and run away, we show our weaknesses."
Saban said Israelis living in India travel on a seasonal cycle; they generally spend summers in the north and winters in the south. Thus, many Israelis congregate in Goa in the winter, as it is located on India's southwest coast.
"This is the height of the winter season," he said, attracting the largest number of Israeli tourists visiting the coastal get-away.
Goa's beautiful beaches and nightclubs have consistently been a popular destination for Western and Israeli tourists, especially youngsters who are looking for an escape after completing their military service. Every year, between October and March, nearly 400,000 Western and Israeli tourists travel to the beach town on India's southwestern coast.
Tourism really begins to pick up in November and culminates towards the end of December, during the height of the holiday season, when Goa's beaches are usually brimming with tourists. This renders them an ideal target for terror attacks during the winter months.
The Foreign Ministry's warning comes on the heels of a warning issued several weeks ago by Indian authorities, when word broke that al-Qaida was planning an attack on Goa over the holiday season. Earlier in the month, Indian intelligence reported that two al-Qaida terrorists had carried out practice runs of attacks in Goa.
The concern is that they could potentially return to execute an attack with the assistance of terrorist cells in India. After the warning initially surfaced, the airport in Goa was temporarily closed to prevent a terrorist hijacking; it has since reopened.
Nightclubs in Goa have been under special surveillance and hotel staff have been particularly alert in regards to spotting potential terrorists checking in to their establishments.
The attack is expected to be in a similar vein to the Bali attacks of 2002, in which terrorist operatives bombed a major tourist district of the Indonesian island, killing over 200, many of whom were foreign tourists on vacation.
"Those traveling to Goa in the next few weeks will be under serious threat of al-Qaida terrorist attacks" said the Division of Counter-Terrorism on Wednesday in its advisory.
Although the warning is strongly advised, it is not legally binding. "The Foreign Ministry would like to clarify that from the perspective of Israeli law, there is no travel ban on the aforementioned areas."
Although the Foreign Ministry stated that the decision to visit Goa is up to each individual's better judgment, they also acknowledged that each individual is responsible for their own actions.
The warning came just a week after Labor, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai's four-day visit to India, where he promoted bilateral economic relations and also met with Israelis at Goa.