According to reports, an unidentified intelligence agency has issued a worrisome warning about security in European capitals in the run-up to the New Year. And on Saturday, it was made public by police in the Austrian capitol of Vienna — multiple European cities have been warned of possible terrorist attacks, reportedly involving explosives and guns, sometime during the few days between Christmas and the New Year's holiday.
It's a claim that's generated a lot of concern, for obvious reasons. On November 13, just about a month and a half ago, a highly coordinated, lethal series of terrorist attacks in Paris, France left a combined 130 people dead. Since then, the United States has been dragged into the creeping fear of terrorism as well, thanks to the San Bernardino shooting on December 2, which claimed 14 lives.
As Reuters describes it, the intelligence agency that handed over the warning was characterized as "friendly" by the Viennese authorities, but there's no indication which country it comes from, so it's not yet clear whether there might be broader political implications at play. What is clear, however, is that security is reportedly tightening in some European capitals. Here's what the Viennese police said, in a statement released on Saturday:
Several possible names of potential attackers were mentioned, which were checked, and the investigation based on (these checks) has so far yielded no concrete results. In the days before Christmas a warning was sent out by a friendly (intelligence) service to numerous European capitals, saying that it could come to an attack involving explosives or a shooting between Christmas and the New Year in crowded spaces.
According to CNN, both the Viennese police and the French National Police confirmed that addition security will be in force throughout the waning days of 2015, in the latter's case through more than 40,000 officers scanning at-risk sites for security issues. Reuters also quoted a German Interior Ministry spokesperson as saying "Germany is still in the crosshairs of Jihadist terrorism," though only after stating that they wouldn't discuss specific scenarios.
That kind of uncertainty is one of the familiar, frustrating things about warnings like these. Both for strategic and safety reasons, intelligence agencies usually don't want to give any unnecessarily specific information about the when/where/how of terrorist threats to the general public.
But giving warnings light on specifics carries risks of its own, potentially leaving the average people consuming the information feeling panicky. In truth, the emotional impact of the warning "there might be a terrorist attack in a European city around the holidays" could easily just be "something horrible could happen almost anywhere at any time." These kinds of fears can have a chilling impact on people's confidence, safety and security — a reality which terrorist groups are typically eager to achieve and exploit.