Canadians, Americans urged to be vigilant while travelling in Europe

The Canadian and U.S. governments have warned their citizens living or travelling in Europe to be aware of potential terrorist threats, but tourism officials worried that it could deter would-be visitors from moving ahead with plans to cross the Atlantic.

Tourists visit the Horse Guards Parade in London

Tourists visit the Horse Guards Parade in London

MADRID, Spain — The Canadian and U.S. governments have warned their citizens living or travelling in Europe to be aware of potential terrorist threats, but tourism officials worried that it could deter would-be visitors from moving ahead with plans to cross the Atlantic.

Foreign Affairs said Sunday that Canadians in Europe should be aware of their surroundings at all times, monitor local news reports, follow the advice of local authorities, and take appropriate steps to ensure their personal security.

It encouraged Canadians to regularly consult the government travel website for updated information and to register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service in order to receive the latest advice.

The travel alert in the U.S. is a step below a formal warning not to visit Europe, but some experts said it could still hurt a fragile European economy already hit hard by the debt crisis.

“I think if someone was looking for an excuse not to travel, then this is just the ticket,” said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“However, I don’t think most people will alter their plans unless the threat is very specific.”

The State Department alert advised the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens living or travelling in Europe to take more precautions about their personal security. 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.

Without a specific threat, however, American visitors were not letting the alert disrupt their travels.

“We live in New York. So in New York we think about these things all the time,” said Richard Mintzer, a 55-year-old American visiting Italy with his wife.

“I wouldn’t say we are particularly worried in Rome, no more than we would be at home, or anywhere in the Western world.”

At Paris’ spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear fashion shows, W magazine fashion market director Karla Martinez said she gets “worried for five minutes, but then I forget about it and get back to the job that I’m here to do.

“It’s a little scary when you’re staying in a big hotel with lots of tourists, because we hear that could be a target, but I try not to get too worked up about it,” she said.

“At the end of the day all you can do is keep your eyes and ears open and try not to be naive.”

The non-profit group IES Abroad sent emails Sunday warning about 1,500 college students in its European study abroad programs to avoid crowded tourist spots and hangouts typically frequented by Americans.

The message — also sent to the students’ parents — also told students to leave public places if they see signs of trouble.

“We say, ’Be alert, cautious and aware of your surroundings,”’ IES executive vice-president Bill Hoye said. “It means, ’Don’t be totally plugged into your iPod.”’

Hours after the emails were sent by the Chicago-based group, it had no sign of any students who wanted to drop out of the programs.

The impact on travel could deepen if the threat leads to new, tighter security measures, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Forrester Research. But the U.S.-based Air Transport Association, a trade group for the airline industry, said it expects “business as usual.”

United, Continental and Delta said they were operating as usual on Sunday without any cancellations or delays related to the terror alert. The airlines said customers will be charged the usual penalty if they want to change itineraries.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said business travellers will likely keep their plans and hold onto nonrefundable tickets as long as the warning remains “fairly general.”

“The biggest impact will be those people who right now haven’t yet made their plans,” Mitchell said. “They’re the ones who will forestall their decision until the situation is a little bit more clear.”

The travel alert noted in particular “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”

“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks,” it said. “European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stressed to reporters after talking to State Department and Justice Department officials that the alert “means be careful when you go, but they are not advising you not to go.”

U.S. and European security experts have been concerned for days about a terror attack similar to the one in Mumbai, which left 166 people dead and targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a popular restaurant and a crowded train station.

Britain’s Foreign Office on Sunday began warning British travellers to France and Germany that the threat of terrorism in those countries is high. Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said the threat of terrorism in the U.K. remains unchanged at “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said it saw no need to change its assessment of risks to the country and there were “still no concrete indications of imminent attacks” there. France’s interior minister said the threat of a terrorist attack is real but that the country is not raising its alert level.

“The terrorist threat exists, and could hit us at any moment,” the French defence minister, Herve Morin, was quoted as saying in the daily Le Parisien. “Networks organizing themselves to prepare attacks are constantly being dismantled around the world. It is good for the French to know this,”

A French official said Sunday that Italian police had arrested a Frenchman suspected of links to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan. The man was arrested in Naples in early September, said the official, who was not authorized to be publicly named because terrorism cases are classified.

The U.S. alert is not changing plans for three U.S. basketball teams to play preseason games this week in London, Milan and Barcelona, Spain, though Minnesota Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said players were getting additional security when they went out.

Kobe Bryant and other members of the Los Angeles Lakers attended a Premier League game between London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal. Lakers centre Pau Gasol said he had no intention of spending his time in London sitting in a hotel room.

“It’s a great city to be out and walk around in, and experience things. It would be a crime to stay at the hotel,” Gasol said.

The U.S. notice said citizens “should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when travelling,” according to the alert.

The alert wasn’t intended to urge travellers to stay away from public places. It fell short of a formal travel warning, which could have had broader implications including a stronger likelihood of cancelled airline and hotel bookings and the suspension of many U.S. college and university study-abroad programs.

Despite concerns that the alert could cause a European travel slump, there was no strong opposition to it from European leaders, who were advised privately of the impending action, a European official said.

Marietta Rough, a British tour guide in Berlin, said being concerned about terrorism while travelling has simply become something everyone has to live with.

“It shouldn’t affect your daily life, and I certainly don’t feel like it is here in Berlin,” she said.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden is behind the plan to attack several European cities. If that’s true, it would be the most operational role bin Laden has played in plotting attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

Eight Germans and two British brothers are at the heart of an al-Qaida-linked terror plot against European cities, but the plan is still in its early stages, with the suspects calling acquaintances in Europe to plan logistics, a Pakistani intelligence official said last week. One of the Britons died in a recent CIA missile strike, he said.

The Pakistani official said the suspects are hiding in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region where militancy is rife and where the U.S. has focused many of its drone-fired missile strikes.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read