US warns of terror risk in Europe during holiday season

Police and army personnel stand guard during a bomb alert outside the Brussels-North train station in Brussels, on Oct 5, 2016.
Police and army personnel stand guard during a bomb alert outside the Brussels-North train station in Brussels, on Oct 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • The United States State Department has issued an alert to US citizens about a heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season.

The department noted that extremists had carried out attacks in Belgium, France, Germany and Turkey in the past year, and said it remained concerned about the potential for attacks throughout Europe.

In the run-up to the year-end holiday season, the department said on Monday that US citizens "should exercise caution at festivals, events and outdoor markets".

"Credible information indicates the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (an alternative name for ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events," it added.

"US citizens should also be alert to the possibility that extremist sympathisers or self-radicalised extremists may conduct attacks during this period with little or no warning."

The alert noted that terrorists "may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and non-conventional weapons, and targeting both official and private interests".

The alert expires on Feb 20.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a string of terror attacks in France and Belgium since January last year that have left over 250 people dead and hundreds injured.

The State Department warning came a day after French security services thwarted an ISIS-linked plot in France.

The French authorities arrested seven men, aged from 29 to 37 and a mix of French, Moroccan and Afghan citizens, after anti-terror raids in Strasbourg and Marseilles on Sunday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

The eight-month investigation foiled a "new terrorist attack that had been planned for a long time on our soil", he added .

Investigators are looking into the possibility of a "coordinated attack aimed to hit several sites simultaneously" in the country, he said.

The arrests occurred a few days before the opening of the popular Christmas market in Strasbourg, which attracts more than two million visitors every year.

However, the city's mayor said the market was not a target and would proceed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'US warns of terror risk in Europe during holiday season'. Print Edition | Subscribe