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Machu Picchu Kidnap Plot Prompts U.S. to Ban Official Travel

The U.S. State Department barred travel by officials to the 15th century ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru’s top tourist destination, citing a heightened risk of kidnapping.

A criminal organization may be planning to abduct U.S. tourists visiting the mountain Inca sanctuary and the surrounding Cuzco region, the U.S. embassy in Lima said in a statement posted on its website yesterday.

“Personal travel by U.S. Embassy personnel to the Cuzco region, including Machu Picchu, has been prohibited and official travel is severely restricted as a result of this threat,” the embassy said. “Possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013.”

About 1.1 million tourists visited the citadel and Incan ruins in the surrounding areas last year, including 762,000 foreigners, according to the Tourism Observatory of Peru. Located 1,165 kilometers (725 miles) southeast of Lima, Machu Picchu is the mainstay of the country’s tourist industry, which generated $3.3 billion in revenue last year.

The embassy said it is confident of the Peruvian government’s efforts to protect tourists.

Intelligence, Incident

The police presence in the area has been stepped up to guarantee the security of visitors, Rose Likins, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, told Radio Programas del Peru. The embassy is monitoring the situation in order to lift the security warning as soon as possible, according to the Lima-based radio station’s website.

“Thousands of Americans come here every year and they have a fantastic stay, and we hope that will continue,” she said.

Trade Minister Jose Silva told Radio Programas the Peruvian government considers the intelligence on which the U.S. based its warning not to be reliable.

Three American tourists were attacked by a group of about 30 people while driving through the Pallca area of Cuzco last month, according to El Comercio. They were beaten and interrogated for several hours before being released, the Lima-based newspaper said.

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