Americans traveling abroad should beware of potential terror attacks aimed at them in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East by al-Qaeda or its affiliated groups, the U.S. State Department said in a global travel alert.
“Extremists may elect to use conventional or nonconventional weapons, and target both official and private interests,” the department said yesterday. Potential targets may include high-profile sports events, residences, businesses, hotels, clubs, restaurants, schools, places of worship, shopping malls and tourist destinations where Americans congregate.
Two U.S. officials familiar with the warning said that while it’s a routine renewal of the department’s worldwide caution, it also reflects mounting intelligence that suggests Islamic terrorist groups loosely affiliated with what remains of al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan may be planning a new series of attacks against Western targets.
The officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified because the intelligence is classified, said the renewed caution also is an indication that, despite the 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, his radical ideology has been spreading to new areas, making it more difficult to detect and contain threats. They declined to discuss specific warnings.
In addition, the officials said, rather than ushering in new democracies, the collapse of some authoritarian regimes in the Mideast and North Africa has created ideal conditions for radical groups to recruit and train new adherents.
In Europe, there is a continuing threat “from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis,” the State Department said.
In the Mideast and North Africa, there is “credible information” that terror groups continue to target U.S. interests, the department said.
The warning refers to the rising violence in Iraq “not seen since 2007” and says al-Qaeda in Iraq “is increasingly resurgent.”
The Obama administration’s reference to al-Qaeda gaining strength in Iraq “is a pretty significant statement for an administration that says they ended the war” there, said David Kilcullen, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and author of “Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla.”
“What we are seeing in Iraq is a level of violence not seen since 2006, including kidnappings and inter-communal violence,” Kilcullen said yesterday by telephone. “The war in Syria is giving al-Qaeda in Iraq a new lease of life.”
The department named al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Al-Shabaab, the Somali-based Islamist group, as posing threats. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Sept. 21 attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left at least 67 civilians and security personnel dead.
The Nairobi attack already has led the largest U.S. shopping mall to raise security measures. The Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis said yesterday that it has implemented additional precautions. In early August, the U.S. suspended or closed several embassies in the Mideast after receiving information on security threats.
Al-Shabaab, once seen as defeated, is “hitting back in three different ways,” Kilcullen said. The group is mounting terror attacks in big cities while also “going into the bush” as a rural strategy in Somalia, and expanding regionally to target nations whose troops are fighting them there, he said.
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