The United States Department of State issued a worldwide travel alert on Monday, three days before the busy Thanksgiving holiday, cautioning travelers of “increased terroristic threats” from ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. The alert warns American citizens to be on alert for possible terrorist attacks wherever they are traveling.
U.S. State Department travel alerts are not uncommon, based on credible intelligence, however the latest alert says that Islamic militants are believed to be planning additional attacks in “multiple regions.” Additionally, the State Department alert warns of the continuing threat from “lone wolf” terrorists or sympathizers who may be planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. The last U.S. State Department global alert was issued in December, 2014, when an Iranian man stormed a Sydney café and held 17 people hostage for 16 hours. Most alerts are focused on travel to specific countries for specific reasons, such as terrorism threats in Afghanistan or Ebola outbreaks in Sierra Leone.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly warned that the global terrorism threat has shifted to “lone wolf” or copycat attacks. Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano said during an interview in 2011 — the biggest threat to the homeland was the home-grown threat. Napolitano warned citizens to be vigilant of “the lone actor that we may not know about, who may already be in the United States and so it requires us to be vigilant and the public be vigilant.” Speaking at a conference in Paris in December, 2011, then Department of Homeland Secretary, Janet Napolitano said the largest threat to America is the “lone wolf.” Napolitano stated “we need to keep these dangerous travelers from reaching the U.S.” and urged European allies to work together to improve information sharing efforts. Napolitano urged G6 countries to support a U.S.- European Union Agreement on the Use and Transfer of Passenger Name Records.
Despite the efforts since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by the U.S. government to improve information sharing with its allies, last week’s Paris attacks evidence that gaps remain. In response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government created the “no fly list” as a safeguard to flag potential terrorists before they board commercial airliners. A critical component in the effort to combat terrorism is information sharing, between federal, state and local government agencies and with other countries. The Associated Press reported that senior Iraqi intelligence officials warned members of the U.S. led coalition fighting ISIS of imminent assaults by the militant organization the day before the deadly attacks in Paris. One of the suspected Paris attackers, Omar Ismail Mostefai, was known to French police as a petty criminal who had become radicalized. Although Mostafai spent several months in Syria in late 2013 and early 2014 — his petty criminal background was not shared with U.S. authorities. In January, 2015, the backgrounds of Said and Chérif Kouachi, two brothers behind an attack on a Jewish deli in Paris landed the two on both U.S. and British no-fly lists, but French authorities decided in 2013 that they no longer presented a security threat.