By Everett Potter
I was in London on Monday morning, the first work day after the US State Department warned of an increased probability of a terror strike in Europe. England had been singled out, along with Germany and France. When I took to Piccadilly at 8AM, it was rainy, gray and glum, thronged with pedestrians in what appeared to be a re-take of The Day the Earth Stood Still. But they’re weren’t panicking and this was not terrorism – it was merely another tube strike.
Still, it felt grim. When I asked my cab driver on the way to the airport what he thought of the warning, he replied in East End tones, “Well, it’s the Real IRA again, inn’t it?”
He was partly right. Recent threats by the Real IRA have been making London jittery, but this week’s warning about Al Quaeda has made everyone pause yet again. At the airport, there were extra passport checks but nothing else that my eye could see.
The problem is that the warning is so vast and so vague as to make everyone feel generally uneasy and then go about their business, one eye over their shoulder. A friend who spent 35 years as an officer in the British army remarked drily that morning that “Sixty percent of that warning is a message to the terrorists that ‘We know what you’re up to.’”
Reassuring as that might be, it’s the other 40 percent that I’m concerned about. But what to do?
I can’t tell you if you should travel, or not. But I can suggest that you look to three sources of information if you’re on the fence and then make up your mind.
Visit the US Department of State, which has issued a warning that ” alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”
There are more details at the site. But to get a bigger picture, it’s helpful to visit the British Foreign Office website, which doles out information and advice that is often slightly different from its US counterpart.
Finally, check out Smart Traveller, the Australian government’s website that advises on travel.
If nothing else, you’ll get a bigger picture and more perspective on the current situation.
Here’s to safe travels wherever you’re going.