U.S. might tell its citizens to be vigilant in EuropeWASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering telling U.S. citizens to be vigilant as they travel in Europe, updated guidance prompted by fresh al-Qaida threats, American and European officials told The Associated Press on Saturday.
By: By Eileen Sullivan, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering telling U.S. citizens to be vigilant as they travel in Europe, updated guidance prompted by fresh al-Qaida threats, American and European officials told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Such a move could have negative implications for European tourism if travelers fear there’s a possibility of terror attacks.
The State Department may issue a travel alert as early as Sunday advising Americans to stay vigilant as they travel through Europe because of fresh threat information, U.S. officials told the AP.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to comment on the matter. But he said the administration remains focused on al-Qaida threats to U.S. interests and will take appropriate steps to protect Americans.
A European official briefed on the talks said the language in the U.S. alert is expected to be vague. It won’t address a specific country or specific landmarks, the official said.
European and U.S. officials have not identified any specific targets that terrorists might be considering, the official said. Officials have called the threat credible but not specific. Officials have 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.
The U.S. has told European leaders that the State Department alert would be intended to raise the guidance to match the information about the would-be attack that surfaced last week, the European official said.
There had not been strong opposition to the proposed alert from European leaders, the European official said.
Some U.S. allies in Europe have expressed concern about the proposed guidance, saying it is an overreaction to the threat information, a position shared by some in the administration, the officials said. The U.S. initially considered warning U.S. citizens to stay away from public places in Europe, but decided to tone down the guidance, one of the officials said.
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 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.
“We remain focused on al-Qaida’s interest in attacking us and attacking our allies,” Crowley said. “We will do everything possible to thwart them and will take steps as appropriate.”
The implications of a blanket “travel warning” for all of Europe could be big. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans in Europe at any one time, including tourists, students and businesspeople.
While the government cannot stop people from traveling there or force them to return home, a warning could result in canceled airline and hotel bookings as well as deter non-U.S. travelers from going to Europe. In addition, many U.S. college and university study-abroad programs will not send students to countries for which a warning is in place for insurance and liability reasons.
For that reason, officials said, there was internal debate over how strong to make the guidance. The State Department has several grades of travel notice, ranging from low-threat advisories to more severe alerts and a formal “travel warning.” There is also a “worldwide caution” in place that warns Americans of ongoing global terrorist threats.
Under a “no double standard” rule adopted after the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the government is obliged to share threat information that it has given diplomats and other officials with the general public.
The Italian Interior and Foreign Ministry, German Foreign Office, French Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, the national police and the Paris police all declined immediate comment. Calls to the Paris tourism office and the French government’s tourist office in the United States went unanswered Saturday and there was no immediate response to e-mail requests for comment.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.