Sunday's travel alert by the U.S. State Department for Americans in Europe should scare no one from going there, but people can use it to remind themselves of common-sense measures to help them avoid being targets of opportunity, current and former State Department officials say.
For those needing a refresher course on those common-sense measures, officials are happy to abide.
The State Department's travel website lists many tips on how people can lessen their chances of being targeted by terrorists and kidnappers, especially those who are looking for American tourists. These tips include minimizing the time spent near airports' public areas (because they are less secure than areas on the other side of the security checkpoints); avoiding luggage tags that would identify you as a tourist; looking for and reporting unattended parcels at an airport; and identifying visitors before opening the door of your hotel room.
Don Hamilton, a counterterrorism expert formerly with the State Department, added these tips in an interview with CNN:
- Take taxis that are clearly identified as taxis, and avoid tour buses. "The tour bus is a big, fat, obvious target," he said.
"I would think regular mass transit would be fine, but you don’t want something that says, hey, busload of Americans."
- Avoid certain clothing that could identify you as an American, Hamilton said.
"Notice that Europeans, for the most part, do not wear shorts unless they’re participating in athletic activities," Hamilton said. "Very few people, other than Americans, wear sporting shoes - sneakers - around when they’re out for a walk."
On the whole, though … you're much more likely, I think, to be the target of a criminal attack or some sort of random accident [than a terrorist attack]," Hamilton said. "If I had plans to go to Europe, I'd go in a heartbeat, and I'd have a nice time. And I would try to … keep my eyes open for abandoned parcels, strange behavior and try not to stick out in a crowd."
Sunday's advisory, which alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe, comes after last week’s news that intelligence officials have been examining information that al Qaeda or related groups may be planning on that continent something similar to the 2008 attack that killed more than 160 people over three days in Mumbai, India.
The alert reminds U.S. citizens "of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure" and urges them to be aware of their surroundings. It urges Americans to register their travel plans with the State Department's travel registration website.
The advisory is not meant to tell Americans to avoid travel, but to take "common-sense precautions" in case of trouble, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy told reporters Sunday.
Kennedy said the State Department has issued travel alerts for Europe for "a variety of reasons" in the past, including the recent eruption of volcano in Iceland that snarled air travel across the continent. But he said he could not recall the last time a continent-wide travel alert was issued for security reasons.
- The CNN Wire and CNN's Antoinette Campbell contributed to this report.