How Concerned Should Americans Be About European Terror Alert?

Gauging the risk

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The U.S. State Department's travel alert, notifying Americans of the risk of a terror attack in Europe, has been met with some skepticism about possibly blowing the threat out of proportion. The travel alert, which is one step below the more commonly issued "travel warnings" that currently stand against 31 countries, has generated a great deal of media attention for its vague but menacing wording. The alert states that tourists could be at risk from terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda targeting "tourist infrastructure" such as subways or "aviation and maritime services." What should Americans make of this?

  • The Threat Is Real  The Wall Street Journal's Douglas Murray warns, "Increasingly credible reports have emerged claiming that Predator drone attacks in Pakistan have killed a number of people planning Mumbai-style attacks in Western European cities. This fits with the increased number of alerts and heightened threat levels across Europe in recent weeks." He cites the number of Western Europeans reportedly killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. "There is another reason that weak civilian targets constitute such an attraction: They produce terror in its purest form. Even leaving aside any devastation caused by the attacks themselves, any Mumbai-style assault in a city such as Paris or London could have an effect on the way in which the public approaches day-to-day life."
  • This Is About the U.S. Covering Its Butt  Time's Massimo Calabresi asks, "Scarcely a day has passed in nine years without someone from the White House, Homeland Security or the State department telling Americans that al Qaeda is still a threat. So why the warning now? ...  A more candid travel alert would read: 'al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plot terrorist attacks in Europe; the State department thinks a new attack may be coming but doesn't know enough to prevent it.' It's not clear what good 'being aware of your surroundings' will do you under those circumstances. But if an attack does occur, Americans living in or traveling to Europe can't say they weren't warned."
  • Why Are U.S., Europe Not 'On The Same Page'?  Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes, "It sounds like the [increasing U.S.] drone strikes are aimed at the masterminds who are coordinating things from Pakistan whereas the actual operatives are already long gone and in place in Britain, Germany, France, etc. If so, a question: How did they manage to avoid being captured by counterterror agents? Western intel has reportedly known about this plot since early July. ... It's amazing that they’ve managed to avoid detection this long. Presumably there’s been a manhunt on inside Europe for weeks, and yet here we are being told that they’re ready to strike. ... European officials insist that an attack isn’t imminent and are 'irritated' with the U.S. for leaking info about the plot before they could gather more intel about it. Ominous exit question: Are we sure everyone’s on the same page here?"
  • Alert Risks More Harm Than Good  The Daily Beast's Matthew Yglesias points out that the travel alert is so vague as to be nearly useless; the only ways an American could respond to such a generalized threat is by doing nothing or canceling a planned trip to Europe. "What if tens of thousands of people really had canceled their business travel or tourism plans, disrupting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of commerce? It would have been among the greatest coups in the history of al Qaeda, and achieved without a shot. All of which raises the question: What on earth are the pointing of these alerts, and why on earth can’t the government get out of the business of self-defeating cautionary notes that are disconnected from any conceivable course of action?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.