The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Sunday that is both sweeping and frustratingly limited in information
The alert was issued on a Sunday — an unusual step for the government. The alert says that Americans should be aware of possible al-Qaida sponsored attacks in unspecified cities throughout Europe. The alert is a step below a travel warning, which would tell Americans not to travel to a destination.
While the U.S. alert named no specific areas, a similar warning issued by the United Kingdom told its citizens to be on alert in France and Germany. The New York Times reported that Britain could also be a target and that terrorists from Pakistan and North Africa were believed to be involved in the plans.
Tourism officials worried that it could deter would-be visitors from moving ahead with plans to cross the Atlantic.
Security officials say terrorists may be plotting attacks in Europe with assault weapons on public places, similar to the deadly 2008 shooting spree in Mumbai, India.
The travel alert is a step below a formal warning not to visit Europe, but some experts said it could still hurt a fragile European economy already hit hard by the debt crisis.
"I don't think most people will alter their plans unless the threat is very specific." George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, told the Associated Press
On any given days, there are hundreds of thousands of American tourists throughout Europe, in addition to tens of thousands more who live on the Continent.
Without a specific threat, however, American visitors were not letting the alert disrupt their travels.
"We live in New York. So in New York we think about these things all the time," Richard Mintzer, a 55-year-old American visiting Italy with his wife told the Associated Press. "I wouldn't say we are particularly worried in Rome, no more than we would be at home, or anywhere in the Western world."
Major U.S. airlines said they were operating their schedules without interruption
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said business travelers will likely keep their plans and hold onto nonrefundable tickets as long as the warning remains "fairly general."
"The biggest impact will be those people who right now haven't yet made their plans," Mitchell told the Associated Press. "They're the ones who will forestall their decision until the situation is a little bit more clear."
Here's the text of the alert:
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.
We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qa'ida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.
We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 from elsewhere in the world.
For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State's Country-Specific Information as well as the Worldwide Caution, which can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For further information on safety tips while traveling abroad, U.S. citizens should also consult the following website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips —1232.html
This Travel Alert expires on January 31, 2011.