Japan, Sweden latest countries to issue travel alerts for Europe
Japan and Sweden echoed earlier alerts from the USA and Britain Monday of a heightened threat of a terror attack in Europe. Meanwhile, in France, police made their first arrest in connection with a fake bomb scare last week in a Paris train station.
Japan and Sweden issued travel alerts for Europe Monday, joining the United States and Britain in warning of a possible terrorist attack by al Qaeda or other groups.
Tokyo's alert followed a similar one from the United States on Sunday, which advised travellers to be alert around “public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”
Following the US announcement, the UK raised its terror warning to "high" for its nationals in France and Germany.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said France was “analysing” the US data and would remain “vigilant” but that the government would not raise the terror alert level a notch, which would indicate an “imminent attack.”
“These American recommendations are line with the recommendations that we
have made on our own territory,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, pointing to France's “red'' terror alert status - the second-highest in the French warning system.
But Germany's interior minister warned Monday against "alarmism" about the threat of terrorist attacks.
"At the moment there are no indications of imminent attacks in Germany," Thomas de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin, but acknowledged an "abstract threat."
What kind of attack?
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. European officials have provided no details about specific targets.
Last week, a Pakistani intelligence official said eight Germans and two British brothers were at the heart of an al Qaeda-linked terror plot against European cities, but the plan was still in its early stages, with the suspects calling acquaintances in Europe to plan logistics.
The official said the suspects were hiding in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region where militancy is rife and where the US has increased its drone-fired missile strikes in recent weeks.
Former US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urged Americans in Europe to take common sense precautions, such as knowing where they are in a city and identifying an exit at major tourist sites.
“Don't walk around with the American flag on your back,'” Chertoff, who headed the agency during the Bush administration, told the ABC news programme, ‘Good Morning America’.
“(Consider) where you would take shelter if something happened.''
Tourists taking it in their strike
Business travellers and tourists arriving Monday at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport from the United States said they were aware of the new warnings but weren't changing their plans.
''I'm very happy to be here in France. I think we're very safe, and I trust the French government to keep us safe,'' said James O'Connell, a 59-year-old from Pittsburgh, arriving in Paris for a 7-day holiday.
Travellers taking the Eurostar trains between London and Paris were similarly determined not to let the warnings disrupt their plans.
Jennifer D'Antoni, who owns a retail clothing store in Britain, was in Paris to celebrate her birthday.
''I’ve had a wonderful time and I'll come back again. In fact, I wish I was here for another day because I didn't get to see everything. We are just going to be a bit more cautious getting on the train,'' she said.
Yet Germans - authorities and citizens alike - were not convinced of the need for concern.
''I think it is quite exaggerated,'' said Marian Sutholt, 25, of Berlin. ''If you worry all the time, you actually live up exactly to what the terrorists want. So you should take things as they come, and not worry too much. Hopefully nothing will happen.''
But John Gooley, a tourist from Oregon in the USA, was more cautious.
“I am still happy to travel all throughout Europe, but for right now I might avoid Paris, Berlin, London,” he said Monday.