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The Risk of Terrorism when Travelling Abroad

The purpose of FCO Travel Advice is to provide information to British travellers and British citizens resident overseas. It is designed to help them make informed decisions about whether or not to travel to a particular country, and what issues and risks they should be aware of when abroad. The provision of the Travel Advice often involves difficult judgements. We do not warn against travel to all countries in which there is a risk of terrorists operating. If we were to do so it could cover a large proportion of the world, serving only to cause panic and disrupt normal life. That is precisely what terrorists are striving to achieve. People reading the FCO Travel Advice must of course make their own decisions on whether or not to travel to a particular country, and how to carry on their lives abroad. Our job is to give the best advice we can.

This page gives a brief summary of the terrorist threat world-wide, and what help FCO Travel Advice can provide in warning of the dangers.

It has long been the case that travellers overseas face a risk, usually small, of being caught up in terrorist attacks resulting from local political tensions. But recent years have seen a worrying increase in attacks against 'Western' targets. Since the mid 1990s, Osama bin Laden's Al Qa’ida network and associated groups with the same extreme views have carried out several attacks against broadly 'Western' targets: the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington; the bombing of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the attack on the US naval frigate USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, plus a number of planned attacks that have failed to come off because of disruption by the authorities in the country concerned. Some of the other terrorist attacks during the last 18 months include:

Many of these attacks show that terrorists are prepared to attack the least well protected 'Western' interests. People travelling abroad need to be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks in public places. You should be vigilant, take sensible precautions, be aware of local sensibilities, monitor the media, and check our Travel Advice for the country you live in or plan to visit. Despite the considerable military and law-enforcement successes against terrorist networks, the threat, including the possible use of chemical and biological substances, is likely to remain for some time. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that the risk of being involved in a terrorist attack is still very small, like most other risks of travel (such as natural disasters).

It is rare that the government will warn British citizens against travelling to a country at all. When we do, we hope that people will heed that advice. But there are a range of other countries where there is a risk of terrorists operating. This can be where there is a history of terrorist attacks; or where such groups have been found in the past; or where we believe that terrorists would find it relatively easy to mount an attack because of (for example) support among the local population, or lack of effective law enforcement. The Travel Advice describes what we believe to be the general nature of the threat. This comes in a separate paragraph on 'Terrorism', immediately after the summary of each country Travel Advice. This advice draws on the assessments that are made, and regularly updated, by the Security Service (MI5).

What can ordinary travellers do to minimise risks? Most precautions are common sense. Make sure you are aware of the situation in the country you are going to, by checking this website and keeping an eye on the news, and if in doubt by checking in with the local British Embassy or Consulate. Look out for anything suspicious (for example an unattended bag at an airport, or a group of people acting suspiciously around an obviously 'Western' institution or gathering). Report anything that you think is suspicious to the local police – many terrorist attacks have been foiled by the vigilance of ordinary people.