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Alert : US issues travel alert for Europe

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The US State Department issued a formal alert Sunday warning Americans traveling in Europe to remain vigilant against “the potential for terrorist attacks” and urging precaution in public places and transportation systems.

France and Britain immediately voiced support for the security statement, which said “current information suggests that Al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks.”

“US citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” according to the alert.

It said attackers may use “a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests,” and that particular targets could be railways, subways and other tourist infrastructure.

The alert — which the State Department issues regarding specific events, and is one step down from a travel warning — follows intelligence reports which suggested an Al-Qaeda attack could be imminent.

“European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions,” the State Department said.

US officials on Saturday said such an alert was likely.

“The bottom line would be to tell Americans to continue to travel but be vigilant,” a US official told AFP on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another US government official told AFP the State Department would take “further actions as appropriate.”

“We have been and continue to be focused on Al-Qaeda’s interest in attacking us, our allies and our interests. We will spare no effort to thwart terrorists’ plans, and will take further actions as appropriate,” the official said.

News media in the past week reported that Western intelligence agencies had uncovered an Al-Qaeda plot to launch attacks in Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

The reports said well-armed, commando-style teams of jihadists planned to seize and murder Western hostages in a manner similar to the attacks two years ago in the Indian city of Mumbai on two hotels and its main railway station, in which 10 gunmen killed 166 people and injured more than 300.

Intelligence and diplomatic officials in Europe and the United States have refused to confirm the alleged terror plot on the record.

But minutes after the US alert was issued, European powers Britain and France expressed support for it.

“We work closely with our international partners in countering terrorism and the US advice is consistent with our assessment,” British Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.

France’s foreign ministry said through a spokesman that the US alert is “in line with the general recommendations we ourselves make to the French population.”

In Paris, bomb scares briefly shutting down the Eiffel Tower and train stations in recent weeks.

The Czech government said Sunday it had stepped up security following the alert.

“We aren’t taking this information lightly. We have taken preventive security measures” including at Prague’s international airport, deputy interior minister Michal Moroz told CT state television, although he said police had no information about possible attacks in the Czech Republic.

A US official on Wednesday privately confirmed threat as “credible but not specific.”

“For that reason, people shouldn’t limit their thinking to the United Kingdom, France, or Germany,” the official told AFP.

An Italian foreign ministry official said that “the fight against terrorism is one of our priorities and on this subject we are in tune with the United States.”

The German weekly Der Spiegel reported that an Al-Qaeda plot to launch such attacks on European cities was planned by the group’s number three leader, with support from Osama bin Laden.

In its issue to hit newsstands Monday, Der Spiegel reported that Al-Qaeda’s third in command, Sheikh Yunis al-Mauretani, plotted the attacks, and had shared his plans with Ahmad Siddiqui, an Islamist with German nationality currently held at the US-run Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Siddiqui was the likely source of information that sparked recent hikes in Western security threat levels, the weekly said.

Travel alerts are not especially rare. A travel alert currently exists for India through November 15 due to the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi from Sunday through October 14.

A total of 31 travel warnings are in effect for various countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Lebanon as well as Sudan and Somalia.

Washington, October 3, 2010 (AFP)