The latest U.S. Department of State travel alert leaves much confusion in its wake as it covers all of Europe and does not list specific potential targets that al-Qa’ida or affiliated organizations might attack. It merely states that in the past terrorists “have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.”
As Spud Hilton of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Issuing an alert . . . for . . . 3.9 million square miles covering some 50 countries is just useless.”
Fortunately, I heard Neil Livingstone, Chairman & CEO of Executive Action, one of the leading terrorism experts in the world, narrow the threat somewhat in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News.
Livingstone listed three major areas of threat.
National monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower
Subway and light rail systems (I would add suburban heavy rail commuter rail systems, such as the one attacked in Madrid.)
(Based on previous terror activity and ease of entry, I would add large chain or other well-known hotels to Livingstone’s list.)
Of the three types of potential targets he listed, Livingstone seems most worried about airports, especially about the ease of entry into terminal buildings and about the potential for a series of coordinated attacks.
Neil Livingstone believes that as few as six attacks on major airports at the same time would shut down the entire worldwide commercial air network, until extensive additional security measures were put in place worldwide.
Typically, you need not clear security before entering airport check in areas.
That means terrorists carrying bags “to check” currently have the potential to hide guns, grenades and other weapons easily until they reach areas that may contain hundreds of people. Cameras and plainclothes security people may keep an eye on people entering terminals, but they are not set up to question or search more than a small number of those entering.
On a much smaller scale than al-Qa’ida may be currently plotting, this lack of robust terminal perimeter security has already impacted the U.S.
In 2002, a gunman fatally attacked the El Al ticket counter in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Six Israelis in the area were shot and two died. The gunman was also fatally shot. Scary.
Although he did not rule out attacks on the U.S., Livingstone drew attention to the European political situation.
With much current domestic pressure on some European governments to withdraw support from the Afghanistan war, Livingstone believes al-Qa’ida may be hoping for the type of result achieved after attacks on Madrid commuter trains in 2004, when Spain quickly withdrew from the Iraq war.
Unlike the U.S. alert, the current British government travel alert places special attention on France and Germany.
As these countries tighten security because of the current threat, Livingston believes al-Qa’ida will focus instead on secondary countries, such as Italy and Spain.
I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of canceling a trip to Europe or heading back early based on the current alert—in fact, I am planning a tentative trip now. Nevertheless, that’s a personal decision. You have to go with your comfort level.
I would choose to focus more on smaller cities, the “typical” areas of large cities not dominated by tourists, and the countryside, not on icons such as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that attract swarms of American and other travelers. I would continue to favor smaller hotels and guesthouses in Europe, as I have for years.
Moreover, I would make it a priority to check in and pass through airport security as rapidly as possible!
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