WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government issued an alert yesterday that American citizens traveling overseas could be targeted for terrorist attacks over the next few weeks, including during the celebrations for New Year's Eve.
The warning, more sweeping than others sent out by the State Department in recent months, was issued after U.S. intelligence services detected evidence that the terrorist network of Saudi financier Osama bin Laden was planning action against Americans soon, a U.S. official who works on such issues said.
In what it called a "worldwide caution," the State Department said U.S. officials have received "credible evidence" that terrorists are planning attacks on Americans between now and the end of the year.
"The information indicates that attacks could be planned for locations throughout the world where large gatherings and celebrations will be taking place," the written statement noted.
It cautioned that Americans traveling or living abroad "should avoid large crowds and gatherings, keep a low profile and vary routes and times of all required travel."
A government source said that "there have been a slew of [terrorist] threat reports over the past few weeks, mainly bin Laden-related. And then one emerged in the past couple of days that seemed much more credible and specific than all the others."
The main U.S. concern is the possibility of a terrorist attack in South Asia or the Middle East, the official said, adding that U.S. officials issued a "worldwide" caution because the bin Laden network has shown it has the ability to operate elsewhere, too, notably in Africa.
James B. Foley, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said yesterday that there is no evidence that terrorist attacks are being planned in the United States.
The warning adds a new note of uncertainty to New Year's Eve festivities.
Earlier this year, the main worry about New Year's Eve was that there might be computer breakdowns around the world. The State Department's warning, the fourth such "worldwide caution" it has issued since September, adds a fear that the new year could be ushered in with human-caused havoc.