European travel alert extended

The U.S. Department of state has extended the travel alert for Europe issued March 24 in the wake of the March 22 bombing at Brussels Airport (BRU).

Originally set to expire June 20, the alert has been extended through Aug. 31 to alert U.S. citizens to the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe, targeting major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers and transportation.

“The large number of tourists visiting Europe in the summer months will present greater targets for terrorists planning attacks in public locations, especially at large events,” the State Department said, adding that, “European authorities continue to take steps to assure public safety and disrupt terrorist plots.

Events include the ongoing European Soccer Championship, being hosted by France through July 10.

“Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists, as do other large-scale sporting events and public gathering places throughout Europe,” the agency said. France has extended its state of emergency through July 26 to cover the period of the soccer championship, as well as the Tour de France cycling race which will be held from July 2- 24.

Surviving section of ghetto wall in Krakow
Elsewhere in Europe, the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day event is expected to draw up to 2.5 million visitors to Krak√≥w, Poland, between July 26 and July 31.

“U.S. citizens should be aware that local infrastructure may be strained due to the large number of visitors,” State said noting that Poland will impose border controls at all of its national borders from July 4 to Aug. 2, and visitors to Poland during this period should be prepared to show their passport and undergo stricter security screening throughout Poland.

Poland is one of the signatory countries to the Schengen Borders Agreement signed by 26 European Union (EU) countries in 2006. Once within the Schengen area, international visitors are generally able to move between countries more or less freely, but can expect that to be tightened a bit with the heightened security.

According to the State Department, U.S. citizens should also employ the following tactics to maximize their safety while traveling.
  • Exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.
  • Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency.
  • Monitor media and local event information sources and factor updated information into your travel plans and activities.
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
  • Stay in touch with your family, have a plan if you are separated and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.

Travelers should also enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), the agency said. STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

STEP provides enrolled travelers with several beneficial services including important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in the traveler’s destination country, helping them make informed decisions about their travel plans. It also aids the U.S. Embassy in contacting the traveler in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. Registration in the program can also help family and friends reach the traveler in an emergency.

For more information, visit the State Department's travel website or the Worldwide Caution page for Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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