Travel warnings issued for Europe

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for
Europe, warning of a “high threat” of attacks in countries including
France and Germany.

Previously it had advised only of a “general
threat” but an FCO spokeswoman said the safety of Britons abroad was of
major concern.

The US has also advised vigilance in Europe because of
the threat of an unspecific al-Qaeda attack.

The UK’s threat level, as set by the Home Office, remains

The FCO spokeswoman said: “Like other large European
countries, [France and Germany] have a high threat of terrorism, which is
reflected in our updated travel advice.

“We therefore attach great importance to providing
information about personal safety and security overseas to enable people to
make informed decisions about travel.”

On its website, the FCO said: “Attacks could be
indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign

There are two threat scales. There is the one to Britons
in Britain put out by the Home Office and that remains unchanged at severe.

The second is the threat to Britons abroad and that is
the Foreign Office’s responsibility. It has raised it to the highest level
possible of alert for Britons in France and Germany. It’s gone up to high and
is advising Britons to be vigilant.

It’s very non-specific but is in response to the current
threat perceived from al-Qaeda who are trying to put together a team of
jihadists in the manner of the Mumbai attacks two years ago.

There is an element of back cover in all of this. After the
Bali bombing of 2002, there was a huge row about why MI5 didn’t give people
sufficient warning about how dangerous the threat was in Bali.

The new level is the highest the FCO records and is based
on information from a variety of sources including the Joint Terrorism Analysis
Centre, security and intelligence agencies, diplomatic and media reports, local
knowledge and embassy reports.

In the UK the highest level that can be reached is
critical – when an attack is expected imminently. The current threat level
indicates an attack is “highly likely”.

Security sources have warned of an al-Qaeda plan to send
teams of gunmen to crowded places to kill civilians.

They said cities in the UK, France and Germany were
thought to be targets for the militants, in attacks analysts feared could be
similar to the 2008 atrocities in Mumbai.

Responding to the US warning, which referred to the whole
of Europe, including the UK, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The first
and most important duty of this government is the protection and security of
the British people and visitors to the UK.”

In a statement issued on her behalf, Ms May said:
“As we have consistently made clear, we face a real and serious threat
from terrorism. Our threat level remains at “severe” – meaning that an
attack is highly likely.

“We work closely with our international partners in
countering terrorism and the US advice is consistent with our assessment.

“I would urge the public to report any suspicious
activity to the police in support of the efforts of our security services to
discover, track and disrupt terrorist activity.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the updated travel
guidance from the US “reinforces the need for vigilance”.

“We can’t comment on the specifics but the need for
vigilance is very strong,” he said.

The US state department advised Americans to take care
while in tourist areas.

The department did not specify a country, issuing the
updated guidance for the whole of Europe.

A White House spokesman said: “From the day we
became aware of this latest plot, the president made clear we need to do
everything possible to disrupt this plot and protect the American people.
Whether the State Department issues a travel alert is the decision of the State
Department but this alert is responsive to the President’s direction that we
spare no effort.”

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