EU ministers back the US travel alert about Europe after being briefed about it

By Robert Wielaard, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

EU ministers support US travel advisory

LUXEMBOURG — The EU on Thursday supported the advisory that Washington issued telling American travelers to beware of potential terrorist threats in Europe, and said the bloc should improve its security policies and its consultations with Washington.

After meeting privately with Jane Holl Lute, the deputy U.S. Homeland Security secretary, the European Union interior and justice ministers agreed the Americans “have a lot of reasons” for the alert, said Belgian Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom, who chaired the meeting.

“We have no reason to question the threat level indicated by the United States,” added European Union Interior Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

Brice Hortefeux, the French interior minister, told reporters: “The threat is real” and Europe must work “hand-in-hand with the Americans.”

The U.S. believes a cell of Germans and Britons are at the heart of a terror plot against European cities, a plan they link to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Pakistani officials said this week that eight German militants were killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan.

Thursday’s EU endorsement of the U.S. alert was a victory for Washington, given how surprised some European governments had appeared when it was issued Sunday.

At the time, Britain warned British travelers to France and Germany that the threat of terrorism in those countries is high. Germany said it saw no need to change its assessment of risks to the country, and France said the threat of a terrorist attack was real but that the country was not raising its alert level.

EU officials did not elaborate on Holl Lute’s briefing, and she did not speak to reporters after meeting with the Europeans.

Officials said Holl Lute did not name targets but made a credible case for the terror alert.

“This is always something to take seriously,” said Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask.

Hortefeux, the French delegate, said Holl Lute “confirmed the persistence of the terrorist threat” without identifying targets.

Speaking in Wroclaw, Poland, James Steinberg, the deputy U.S. secretary of state, said on Thursday that the U.S. terror alert for Europe will stay in effect as long as long it’s needed.

He said the terror warnings issued recently by European governments and the U.S. resulted from an extraordinarily high level of trans-Atlantic intelligence sharing.

In Luxembourg, Turtelboom said the meeting with Holl Lute underscored shortcomings in Europe. The Belgian minister proposed more regular trans-Atlantic consultations about security and said EU governments should have common threat level indicators. Some now use colors, others numbers. Turtelboom said that was confusing.

The EU’s role in fighting terrorism is limited. It monitors and coordinates the exchange of terrorist data but has no operational role in pursuing terrorists. That is up to EU nations individually.

Gilles de Kerchove, the EU counterterrorism coordinator, said that in general the terrorist threat across Europe is “serious and it has seriously changed in nature” in the past decade.

He said that since al-Qaida’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, the terrorist threat that Europe faces has become stronger from regional extremist groups in places such as Somalia, Yemen, North Africa and Pakistan.

This week, police in southern France arrested 12 people in sweeps against suspected Islamic militant networks, including three men being checked for potential links to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan.

AP writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this story from Poland.

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