US issues travel alert; Brussels stays cautious

Heavily armed police stand guard in Union Station in Washington, DC on Nov 24, 2015.
Heavily armed police stand guard in Union Station in Washington, DC on Nov 24, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Citing "increased terrorist threats" from militant groups in various regions, the United States has issued a global travel alert, while the authorities in Brussels extended the city's highest-level terror alert into next week.

According to the alert, the US government has information suggesting that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other extremist groups "continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions".

As millions of Americans prepare to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, the US State Department warned its citizens on Monday that potential attackers could target private or government interests.

While the department did not advise people against travel, it said they should be vigilant, especially in crowded places. It noted that militants had carried out attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey and Mali during the past year.

The State Department has regularly issued such worldwide travel alerts since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US. A department official said the latest alert, which expires on Feb 24 next year, effectively updated past warnings.

France launched its first strikes from its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean on Monday, destroying targets in Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq in support of Iraqi forces on the ground, said the French armed forces.

In Europe, following the attacks claimed by ISIS in Paris on Nov 13, France and Belgium have launched a manhunt with a focus on Salah Abdeslam, 26, who returned to Brussels from Paris hours after the attacks and is still at large.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a press conference late on Monday in Brussels that the city will remain under the highest level of alert at least until next Monday, but schools and the underground train system will reopen from today.

"Shopping centres, streets, public transport" are all potential terror targets, he said, adding that the government is doing "everything in our power to keep the situation under control".

The Belgian authorities said a man who was arrested during a large police operation in Belgium late on Sunday has been charged with involvement in the Paris attacks - the fourth so far.

Three people were charged last week, one with possession of firearms. The other two had driven nearly 300km from Brussels to Paris hours after the attacks to help Abdeslam escape to Brussels.

In France, police said they were analysing a suspected suicide belt - similar to those used in the Paris attacks - found without its detonator in a dustbin in the Montrouge suburb of the capital. Telephone data placed Abdeslam in the area on the night of Nov 13.

Meanwhile, Washington and Paris have stepped up their bombardments of ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. France launched its first strikes from its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean on Monday, destroying targets in Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq in support of Iraqi forces on the ground, said the French armed forces.

An air raid was also carried out on ISIS' Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, where French planes destroyed several facilities, including a command centre.

US officials said on Monday that their warplanes destroyed 283 fuel tankers that were being used to transport oil to help fund ISIS in eastern Syria.

French President Francois Hollande was set to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington yesterday to seek support for his newly declared war on ISIS.

Mr Hollande's trip to Washington is part of a frantic week of shuttle diplomacy. He will hold talks with the German, Russian and Chinese leaders in the coming days.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'US issues travel alert; Brussels stays cautious'. Print Edition | Subscribe