U.S. to travelers: Don't avoid Europe, but be on your guard

The Obama administration on Sunday warned Americans of potential terrorist threats in Europe and urged them to be vigilant in public places, including tourist spots and transportation hubs. (Oct. 3)
By Glenn Kessler and Edward Cody
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 4, 2010

The State Department issued a "travel alert" Sunday, cautioning American travelers of potential dangers in Europe after what U.S. officials said was an assessment of information that al-Qaeda appeared to be plotting attacks on cities there.

The alert did not identify any particular countries and did not urge Americans to avoid particular venues. It was a step below a formal "travel warning," a designation telling U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to particular places.

U.S. officials emphasized that Americans should not alter any travel plans because of the alert.

"We are not, repeat not, advising Americans not to go to Europe," said Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management. "We're not saying don't visit major tourist attractions or historic sites or monuments."

He suggested that U.S. citizens register with embassies abroad, avoid civil disturbances and not discuss travel plans with others.

European authorities fell in line with the United States in urging increased caution. Britain raised its threat level for Germany and France to "high." The threat level for England had been raised earlier to "severe." Authorities in Europe have been warning for the past three weeks that the danger of a terrorist attack in Europe has been higher than usual, but they issued no specific information on what new intelligence has led them to ratchet up the alert level.

"We are in contact with our American partners, and we are watching the situation," said a statement in Brussels from Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union's commissioner for domestic affairs.

In its announcement, the State Department said, "Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks." It also said some European governments were warning of "heightened threat conditions."

"U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure," the notice said. "Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling."

State Department alerts and warnings are not uncommon - more serious warnings are posted now for 31 nations, including tourist destinations such as Mexico, Israel, Nepal and Kenya. But highlighting threats across an entire continent, and especially Europe, is far less common and could affect tourism.

In addition, thousands of U.S. troops based in Germany were placed under a curfew Friday night and were told not to wear their uniforms off base, according to an order obtained by CNN.

Although the State Department issued an alert about Europe rather than a warning, the announcement nonetheless attracted wide attention. A White House spokesman e-mailed a statement describing President Obama's role in combating the alleged threat.

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