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The US State Department issued a travel alert Sunday to urge Americans traveling to Europe to use caution and vigilance in the wake of a terrorist plot uncovered last week to attack major European cities.
"Current information suggests that Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks," warns the alert. "US citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling."
The alert also warns that terrorists might attack public transportation systems and "tourist infrastructure."
The alert is not a travel warning, which would advise Americans from traveling to Europe. But it underlines how seriously officials are taking the recent Al Qaeda threat against Europe.
The Associated Press reports that the US did not meet strong opposition from European leaders when it informed them of the plan to issue the alert. But the New York Times reports that European officials have been worried about the effect such an action could have on tourism and student travel to Europe.
Al Qaeda plot
A US official told the AP the travel alert is “a cumulative result of information the US has received over an extended period.” But it comes after the revelation last week that Western intelligence agencies had uncovered an Al Qaeda plot to wage attacks on European cities. The Monitor reported that the plan was reportedly to mimic the style of the deadly attack on Mumbai in 2008, with small teams of heavily-armed militants moving in teams to capture and execute Westerners in Britain, France, and Germany.
Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan were reportedly behind the attack, and intelligence agencies have said that Osama bin Laden was possibly involved personally. The plot may have been uncovered when authorities detained a German terror suspect in Afghanistan in July.
Link to drone strikes in Pakistan?
Media reports have linked the plot to US drone strikes in Pakistan. But it is unclear whether the Al Qaeda plot was an attempt to respond to the drone strikes, or whether the strikes were intended to disrupt the plot – or both. The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of reported drone attacks in Pakistan doubled in September, up to 22.
Regardless of the reason for the reported plot to attack Europe, officials appear to be reacting with seriousness.
In addition to the travel alert, Sweden announced Friday that it has raised its terror alert to the highest status, reports The Guardian. France has been hit particularly hard: the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated twice in September after bomb threats and a warning was issued about a female suicide bomber targeting public transit. The Monitor reported that France has been unusually shaken by the recent threats.
The terror warnings have put Europe on alert and caused France, which prides itself in taking something of a phlegmatic view of the threat of terrorism, to increase its terror alert to “red plus” – the second-highest level. France's uncharacteristic cautiousness could signal the seriousness of recent threats, say security analysts, and suggests a new attitude emerging in France toward security.