‘Near-term attacks’: State Dept. issues Europe-wide travel alert as US ramps up security at home
23 March, 2016
Citing risks of “near-term” terrorist attacks, the US has warned Americans against traveling anywhere in Europe and boosted security at home since twin blasts in Brussels left more than 30 people dead over 230 wounded, including several US citizens.
“Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants and transportation,” the State Department said in a statement.
The Department has urged its citizens to be attentive and cautious when in crowded places or using public transportation, and to be especially vigilant while attending religious holidays, festivals, and similar events that attract large numbers of people.
U.S. citizens alerted to potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe following #BrusselsAttacks. Details: http://travel.state.gov
“We work closely with our allies and will continue to share information with our European partners that will help identify and counter terrorist threats,” the department said.
U.S. citizens in #Brussels should monitor local media, follow @TravelGov and @usembbrussels for updates. Details: http://go.usa.gov/c7Hbh
The new travel alert, which extends to all countries “throughout Europe,” will stay in effect for the next 90 days – until June 20.
The US issued a “Crisis in Belgium” guide following the terror attacks, calling on its citizens to shelter in places and “take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security.”
US media reported earlier that at least nine Americans had been among the over 230 injured in Tuesday’s attacks, including three Utah Mormon missionaries and an Air Force member and his family.
The State Department could not immediately confirm that information, however, though it admitted that it was aware that US citizens had been among those wounded.
“I’m going to avoid giving a specific number,” spokesman John Kirby told an AP reporter. “It would be irresponsible for me to give out a number now when the numbers are actually changing literally by the hour,” he said, adding that he would leave it to “the medical people” to “patch these folks up.”
Kirby was also reluctant to comment on allegedly hurt Mormon missionaries, saying that he “can’t confirm specific individuals.”
When asked whether any American tourists had been hospitalized, Kirby replied that he “honestly” didn’t know.
In the meantime, the FBI and New York police officers are sending a team to Brussels to investigate the explosions, John Miller, New York deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told reporters earlier on Tuesday.
“Because there are Americans among the casualties and US persons in the attack in Belgium, there will be an FBI investigation coming out of the New York City Joint Terrorism Task Force,” Miller told the media. “We expect agents and New York City detectives, or Task Force officers, to be gearing up to leave for that investigation overseas as early as tonight or tomorrow.”
‘Public safety is paramount’
US cities and airports have stepped up security and surveillance in the wake of the attacks in Belgium.
Police presence has been ramped up at all three of New York City’s major air hubs – John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty, and LaGuardia.
“NYPD is on increased alert across our city. While we take this threat seriously, we will not live in fear. Our lives will continue today in honor of those lost to terrorism,” New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said. “Securing New York City is our show of solidarity with the people of Brussels and the victims of terrorism worldwide.”
New York State governor Andrew Cuomo directed law enforcement officials to step up security at high-profile locations around the state, including bridges and tunnels, stressing that “public safety is paramount.”
While security has been tightened, New York Police Department spokesman J. Peter Donald said that “there is no known indication that the attack has any nexus to New York City.”
Metro Transit Police officers in Washington, DC began performing additional K9 sweeps and patrols following news of the deadly blasts in Belgium.
No known, specific or credible threat to Metro at this time. Additional K9 sweeps + patrols starting this AM as precaution. #wmata
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said that robust security, both visible and behind-the-scenes, is currently in place.
MTPD is closely monitoring events in Brussels w/our fed partners. If you see something, say something: 202-962-2121 or text MyMTPD. #wmata
Elsewhere in the US, security measures have been stepped up in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia in order to prevent Brussels-like attacks.
"Security has been strengthened for our public transit systems and airports, and law enforcement teams will remain vigilant to ensure the safety of our citizens,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said.
World leaders have spoken out against the terrorist attacks in Brussels with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying that the continent is “at war,” while the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it was an attack against the EU’s freedom.
The Belgian capital was rocked by a twin blast at the city’s airport at around 8am local time (07:00 GMT) and an explosion at the Maalbeek Metro station, just meters away from a number of EU buildings less than an hour later. At least 34 people have been killed in what the Belgian authorities have said were both terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw says that some of those who took part in the assaults could still be at large.
"The court investigator is engaged in the probe into the events in Zaventem [Brussels airport] in order to do everything possible to determine the perpetrators and find out whether they remain at large," he said at a press conference.
Valls, who was speaking at an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace, said “We are at war and have been suffering for several months in Europe,” in regards to the November 13 Paris terror attacks, which killed 130 people in the French capital.
“We are faced with war and we need to be mobilized at all times,” the French PM added. His President Francois Hollande offered his condolences to those affect in Brussels.
“I express my full solidarity with the Belgian people. The whole of Europe has been hit by the Brussels attacks,” Hollande tweeted. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that France would deploy an extra 1,600 security personnel along its borders.
The German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that the attacks on the Belgian capital were aimed not just at Belgium, but also at the whole of the European Union and the freedoms that it stands for.
"It seems that the clear targets of the attacks - an international airport, a Metro station close to EU institutions - indicate that this terrorist attack is not aimed solely against Belgium, but against our freedom, freedom of movement, mobility and everyone in the EU," he told a news conference in Berlin, according to Reuters.
The scenes in Brussels prompted Germany to also step up security measures at transport hubs, as well as its western borders.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would chair a crisis response meeting following the Brussels terror attacks.
"I am shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels. We will do everything we can to help," Cameron tweeted. "I will be chairing a COBRA meeting on the events in Brussels later this morning."
President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to King Philippe of Belgium over the deaths of civilians in Brussels. The Russian leader condemned the attacks, stressing that terrorism knows no borders and threatens all people of the world.
“The fight against this evil implies most active international cooperation,” Putin said, adding that he was confident that the murderers and their accomplices will be punished.
Writing on his Facebook page, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the terrorist attacks at the airport and the Metro in Brussels “a barbaric crime,” as well as showing the need for a universal fight against terrorism.
“The attacks in Brussels are a barbaric crime against civilians. We offer our profound condolences to the victims' families,” Medvedev wrote.
“This incident once again underlines the need for coordinated efforts by the international community to combat terrorism,” he added.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini was forced to cut short a news conference in Jordan as she broke down in tears when speaking of the Brussels bombings.
The Metro bombing took place very near a number of important EU buildings such as Berlaymont building, which houses the EU Commission and the Council of the European Union.
European Council President Donald Tusk called the Brussels attacks “another low by terrorists.”
“I am appalled by the bombings this morning at Zavantem Airport and the European district in Brussels which have cost several innocent lives and injured many others. I extend my sincerest sympathies to the relatives and friends of the victims. These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence...” he said in a statement.
The FBI says it has been coordinating with its Belgian colleagues following the attacks, while Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have both been made aware of the incidents.