Citing increased terror threat, US set to warn Americans in Europe to be more vigilant

By Matthew Lee, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

US to warn Americans in Europe to be vigilant

WASHINGTON — The State Department plans to caution Americans traveling in Europe to be vigilant because of heightened concerns about a potential al-Qaida terrorist attack aimed at U.S. citizens and Europeans.

The travel alert expected to come out Sunday is for travelers’ guidance, is general in nature and isn’t intended to focus on any specific country, location or tourist sites, senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.

The alert would fall short of a formal travel warning, which could have broader implications including a stronger likelihood of canceled airline and hotel bookings. The alert also isn’t intended to urge travelers to stay away from public places. Europeans and some members of the Obama administration had viewed that as an overreaction.

The travel alert is a cumulative result of information the U.S. has received over an extended period, said one official.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to comment Saturday on the matter. But he said the administration was focused on al-Qaida threats to U.S. interests and would take appropriate steps to protect Americans.

U.S. and European security experts have been concerned for days that terrorists may be plotting attacks in Europe with assault weapons on public places, similar to the deadly 2008 shooting spree in Mumbai, India. While intelligence agencies have viewed the threat as credible, they have not identified any specific targets that terrorists might be considering, the U.S. official said.

“The terrorist threat exists, and could hit us at any moment,” the French defense minister, Herve Morin, said in an interview published Sunday. “Networks organizing themselves to prepare attacks are constantly being dismantled around the world. It is good for the French to know this,” he was quoted as saying in the daily Le Parisien.

A U.S travel alert could hurt European tourism and affect business travel. But there hadn’t been strong opposition to the proposed alert from European leaders, who privately have been advised of the impending action, a European official said.

There are hundreds of thousands of Americans in Europe at any one time, including tourists, students and businesspeople. For insurance and liability reasons, many U.S. college and university study-abroad programs will not send students to countries for where a warning is in effect.

U.S.. intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden is behind the terror plots to attack several European cities. If true, this would be the most operational role that bin Laden has played in plotting attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

Eight Germans and two British brothers are at the heart of an al-Qaida-linked terror plot against European cities, but the plan is still in its early stages, with the suspects calling acquaintances in Europe to plan logistics, a Pakistani intelligence official said Thursday. One of the Britons died in a recent CIA missile strike, he said.

The Pakistani official said the suspects are hiding in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region where militancy is rife and where the U.S. has focused many of its drone-fired missile strikes.

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