The US government plans to advise its citizens to be vigilant while travelling in Europe because of heightened concerns about a potential al Qaida terrorist attack, State Department officials said today.
The travel “alert” will be issued today for travellers’ guidance and is general in nature and will not focus on any specific country, location or tourist sites, senior US officials said.
The action falls short of a formal “travel warning” which could have broader implications, including a stronger likelihood of cancelled airline and hotel bookings. It also will not urge travellers to stay away from public places - something Europeans and some members of the Obama administration had viewed as an overreaction.
The travel alert is a cumulative result of information the US has received over an extended period, one of the officials said, noting that agencies are constantly monitoring a range of threats.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the matter yesterday, but he said the administration remains focused on al Qaida threats to US interests and will take appropriate steps to protect Americans.
US and European security experts have for days been concerned 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 US official said.
While a US travel alert could hurt European tourism and curb business travel, there had not 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 US college and university study-abroad programmes will not send students to countries for which a warning is in effect.
US intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden is behind the terror plots to attack several European cities. If this is true, this would be the most operational role that bin Laden has played in plotting attacks since September 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 on 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 US has focused many of its drone-fired missile strikes.