US issues terror warning to Americans in Europe
The US State Department has issued a rare alert urging Americans travelling to Europe to be cautious and vigilant because of suspected terrorist plots to attack major European cities.
"Current information suggests that Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks," the alert states. "US citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when travelling.
"European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions."
It noted in particular "the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure" and advised Americans to "take every precaution, to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling".
The alert stated that terrorists "may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests" and pointed out that there had previously been attacks against railway systems, aviation and shipping.
No country was specified, although it was widely reported last week that suspected plots could target Britain, France and Germany.
The alert does not advise Americans against travelling to Europe but it is likely to make many in the US change their plans. European governments are concerned that the alert could hit tourism and business travel.
For insurance and liability reasons, many American study abroad programmes are now likely to cancel trips between now and January 31st, when the alert is due to expire.
American intelligence officials believe that Osama bin Laden could be behind the suspected terrorist plots in Europe, the most direct role he has played since masterminding the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington.
One American official said the alert was "a cumulative result of information the US has received over an extended period" but others stated that it was linked to last week's reports of Pakistani-born European citizens planning to capture and execute Westerners.
ABC News reported that US intelligence officials feared that terrorist teams in Europe had selected their targets, completed their surveillance and were now ready to strike airports and tourist attractions.
They fear that the suspected plans could involve a "Mumbai style" terrorist attack in which civilians would be targeted. In 2008, terrorists in Mumbai used small arms and explosives to kill 175 people and paralyse the Indian city for days.
Last week, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said: "We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies.
"As we have repeatedly said, we know that al-Qaeda and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and US targets."