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EU ‘monitoring situation’ after US travel alert

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The European Commission said Sunday it was “monitoring the situation” after US authorities urged Americans traveling in Europe to remain vigilant about potential terrorist attacks.

“We have been informed by the US authorities about the alert. We are in contact with our US partners and we are monitoring the situation,” Michele Cercone, spokesman for EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, told AFP. Cercone refused to provide further details.

A European diplomat said on condition of anonymity that US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke with Malmstroem by telephone before the alert was issued.

Malmstroem asked US authorities to provide more details about their reasons for the alert at a meeting of European interior ministers on Thursday in Luxembourg, the diplomat said.

“We will discuss (the alert) at the level of ministers next Thursday in Luxembourg to see what response Europe will issue,” said Margaux Donckier, a spokeswoman for the interior ministry of Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

The US State Department issued a formal alert on Sunday urging Americans to take precautions in public places and transportation systems.

“Current information suggests that Al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks,” the State Department said in its alert.

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.

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 Belgian interior ministry said it would not raise the country’s threat alert system, which remains at the mid-level two out of four.

“We have received the travel advice from the United States,” said Peter Mertens, spokesman for the interior ministry’s crisis centre.

The justice and interior ministries analysed threat information “well before” the US alert was issued, but the Belgian threat coordination centre found no reasons to raise the threat level in Belgium, he said.

Security is high around the royal palace in Brussels for a summit of Asian and European leaders on Monday and Tuesday, but it is not unusual for such an event and there is no link with the US alert, Mertens said.

Brussels, October 3, 2010 (AFP)