Germany: Widening Europe Terror Alert "Alarmist"
As Japan joined the U.S. and Britain in issuing warnings to travelers of possible terrorist attack by al Qaeda or other groups in Europe, Germany sought to quell alarm, calling the official alerts and the media reports surrounding them "alarmist."
Meanwhile, tourists appeared to be taking the mounting warnings in stride.
On Monday the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo urged Japanese citizens to be cautious when using public transport or visiting popular tourist sites, heightening the possibility of damage to Europe's tourism industry.
CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that British residents have even been warned to stay away from their own public transport hubs and tourist attractions due to the apparent "potential" for terror attacks.
The security services say they have information the attacks are aspirational, reports Phillips. In other words, the plotting seems to be in the early planning stages, not an imminent danger. Still, people are being told to increase vigilance and avoid many of the areas they traverse on a daily basis.
The U.S. State Department alert Sunday advised the hundreds of thousands of American citizens living or traveling in Europe to take more precaution about their personal security.
The alert said that terrorists "may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests." It cited the potential danger of terrorists targeting "public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure," noting that attacks have been waged in the past on subways, trains, planes and boats.
CBS News homeland security correspondent Bob Orr reports that his sources in the intelligence and law enforcement spheres are more concerned about the present threat in Europe than they have been about any other potential dangers since the 2006 liquid plane bomb plot was uncovered.
Orr said the State Department's alert should be taken seriously as sources say the threat has been traced back to core members of the al Qaeda leadership - even approved by Osama bin Laden himself, according to some reports - who have "given marching orders" for operatives in Europe to attack when and where they can.
But a cooler tone was taken at a Berlin news conference Monday, where Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, "There is no reason to be alarmist at this time."
He insisted that authorities in Berlin have been aware since early 2009 of possible targets in the German capital that were mentioned in U.S. media reports over the weekend.
According to de Maiziere, Germany has no concrete evidence of an imminent attack and that security forces are vigilant due to an ongoing "high abstract danger" of the terror threat.
A French official said Western nations are aligned in their estimation of the threat.
"These American recommendations are line with the recommendations that we have made on our own territory," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, pointing to France's "red" terror alert status - the second-highest in the French warning system.
"All countries concerned have a convergent analysis of the high level of threat in Europe," Valero said.
Neither France or Germany has raised its terror alert level recently.
In Rome, speaking on state-run RAI TV, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the U.S. alarm about the potential for a terror attack in Europe was "realistic" for Italy because it has troops in Afghanistan.
Frattini said there were no specific Italian targets. But he said the arrest early last month in Naples of an Algerian man suspected of links to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan showed that the threat is real for Italy.
And in Washington, the FBI and the U.S. Homeland Security Department said they have no indication that terrorists are targeting the U.S. or its citizens as part of a new threat against Europe.
According to an intelligence bulletin obtained Monday by The Associated Press, the two U.S. government organizations said al Qaeda continues to want to attack the United States, but nothing points to anything specific, imminent or related to the European plots.
The problem, says Orr, is that officials don't have enough specific intelligence to select landmarks or infrastructure to defend more robustly - leaving the onus of vigilance on residents and tourists themselves.
For tourists who came to Europe to see just the places which they've now been advised to avoid, there's only so much you can do without ruining a vacation (...)