Wednesday, December 27, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israeli backpackers in India are heeding a government warning of an al Qaeda terrorist attack over the New Year’s holiday on beach resorts and rave parties in the state of Goa.

The two-week-old warning from Israel’s Headquarters for the War on Terror has raised concern that al Qaeda wants to repeat the 2002 bombing in the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 persons, most of them Australian tourists.

It also marked the first time Israel’s counterterrorism authorities warned of a “concrete threat” of an al Qaeda attack in India.

“Travelers in Goa are under a severe terror threat of al Qaeda attacks,” the agency warned, and recommended staying away from popular sites in Goa frequented by Western tourists.

Every New Year’s Day, Goa is flooded with thousands of Israeli tourists attracted by the stunning beaches and electronic-music dance parties. The warning sent hundreds of 20-something Israeli travelers headed south or inland from the villages where they usually can be found.

“Many people in this area have picked up and gone southward,” said Manoach Shmeltz, who operates a government-supported backpacker center in Goa. “They are already planning to come back on January 2.”

As many as 30,000 Israelis a year obtain entry visas for India, making the country one of the most heavily visited locations for Israeli tourists. With a reputation dating to the 1960s for attracting bohemian travelers, Goa’s New Year’s Eve raves are a big draw for Israeli backpackers.

Indian defense and police officials rejected the warning.

“We have not received any specific threat or intelligence on such a threat either from New Delhi or any international agency,” Goa state police Chief B.S. Brar told Agence France-Presse in the state capital, Panaji. “Goa is one of the safest places in the world.”

An official at the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment.

It’s not the first time Israel’s counterterrorism authority has warned travelers abroad about the locations frequented by large numbers of Israelis. In the past, Israeli tourists have been warned not to go to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula or to tourist spots in Turkey. Both locations are known for attracting droves of Israelis.

In April, the warning proved correct and bombers thought to be linked to al Qaeda detonated explosives at the Sinai town of Dahab, which is popular with Israelis, killing 23 persons, most of them Egyptians.

In November 2002, al Qaeda tried to shoot down an Israeli plane taking off from Nairobi, Kenya.

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