The Obama administration is expected to issue an alert to U.S. citizens in Europe, urging them to be vigilant after new intelligence pointed to new Al Qaeda threats, senior U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.
Such a move could have negative implications for European tourism, business, and diplomacy if travelers fear there’s a possibility of terror attacks.
The State Department will issue a “travel alert’’ for Europe this morning that advises Americans to stay vigilant on the continent because of threat information, senior US officials said.
A European official briefed on the talks said that the language in the U.S. alert is expected to be vague; it won’t address a specific country or specific landmarks, however, Britain, France and Germany are thought be at the greatest risk.
Senior US diplomats who report to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington today to discuss the wording of the warning.
It is expected to advise US travellers to deploy extra caution when visiting tourist destinations, transport hubs and other likely terror targets.
Even a broad new warning could hit the European tourism industry. But the administration of President Barack Obama believes the threats are credible and strong enough that it needs to deliver the warming to US citizens.
The European official said there had not been strong opposition to the proposed alert from European leaders.
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to comment on the matter. But he said the Obama administration remains focused on al-Qaida threats to U.S. interests and will take appropriate steps to protect Americans.
“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 latest intelligence shows that Bin Laden was directly involved in trying to execute what an intelligence official emphasized was a multiple-city Mumbai-style attack.
“It’s clear and the plot is clear. The clarity of detail on the plans for these attacks is disturbing,” the official told Fox News.
There was “some degree of coordination between the multiple teams of attackers targeting at least three Western European cities, but not all know when to hit,” the official said, adding the goal was to kill many, many more than the 173 killed in Mumbai, India, two years ago.
Eight Germans and two British brothers are at the heart of the 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 Qaeda’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 warning. 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.
On Tuesday night the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated following a bomb threat called in from a telephone booth. It was the second such alert at the monument in two weeks.
Bomb experts combed through the 324m (1,063ft) tower and found nothing unusual, Paris police headquarters said. Tourists were let back inside about two hours after the structure was emptied.