U.S. Travel Alert: Europe

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Background

The US Department of State (DoS) issued a new Travel Alert on 1 May warning US citizens of the continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout Europe. According to the message, terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda have the ability to both plan and execute attacks within Europe. Further, the message indicates that US citizens should always be alert that terrorist group sympathizers or self-radicalized individuals may conduct attacks with little or no warning. Targets of interest for terrorists include tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. The DoS advises that US citizens exercise additional vigilance while visiting these areas, in addition to hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, high-profile events, educational institutions, airports, and other soft targets. Further, the Alert notes that travelers should maintain vigilance in the upcoming summer months during which large crowds may be common.

The Travel Alert is scheduled to expire on 1 September.

Analysis

This is the third time the DoS has issued a Travel Alert for Europe since the beginning of 2016.

  • 21 November 2016: The DoS issued a Travel Alert for Europe warning US citizens of the heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season. That alert expired on 20 February 2017.
  • 22 March 2016: The DoS issued a Travel Alert following the coordinated terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium that killed 32 people, and attacks in Paris, France on 13 November 2015 that killed 130 people.
    • The DoS subsequently updated the Alert in May 2016, warning US citizens that the larger number of tourists visiting Europe during the summer months presented greater targets for potential terrorist attacks in public locations, including major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers, and transportation.
This most recent Travel Alert cites recent incidents in France, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom as evidence that terrorist groups—like IS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates—have demonstrated an ability to plan and conduct attacks on the continent. In addition, there have also been terrorism-related incidents and arrests in other countries in Europe that have raised concerns among security officials about the establishment of a trend of terror attacks in many European countries. Of particular concern has been the use of vehicles in ramming attacks. This tactic was used in attacks in Stockholm, Sweden on 7 April; London, United Kingdom on 22 March; Berlin, Germany on 19 December 2016; and in Nice, France on 14 July 2016. Other attacks have involved stabbings, shootings, and explosions.

This Travel Alert does not cite a specific threat or new intelligence that would indicate that an imminent attack is likely. However, it is likely tied to the continuing and persistent threat of terrorism on the European continent that has manifested itself in a variety of small- and large-scale attacks, multiple disrupted plots and arrests, and a demonstrated intent by terrorist groups and their sympathizers for future attacks. Travelers are reminded that the probability of becoming a victim of a terrorist incident is incredibly small. However, visitors to Europe should remain cognizant of the threats that exist, continue to exercise caution when in crowded public areas, and take necessary precautions to minimize or mitigate the risks.
 

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