State Dept.: No Attack-Related Reason for Updating Travel Warning Day Before Turkey Tragedy

The State Department said today that it wasn’t aware of any specific threat to the Istanbul airport despite issuing a new travel warning the day before an attack that killed at least 42 and wounded more than 230.

Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the government is “not aware at this time of any U.S. citizen deaths.”

“We are aware of reports of U.S. citizens who were near the attack location, but there are no reports of U.S. citizens who were seriously injured,” he said.

The updated travel warning replaced one issued by the department on March 29. In the June 27 version, Americans are advised to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey and to “stay away from large crowds, including at popular tourist destinations.”

“Exercise heightened vigilance and caution when visiting public access areas, especially those heavily frequented by tourists,” the warning adds.

The department extended through July 26 the March ordered departure of family members of personnel posted to the U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir province.

“We did note in this travel warning increased threats from terrorist groups to U.S. citizens, warning about the fact that extremists have targeted airports and transportation hubs throughout Europe, not just within Turkey. Transportation systems, other vulnerable targets, if you will,” Toner said.

“And you know, we have seen, obviously, a spate of ongoing terrorist incidents, terrorist attacks in Turkey. But again, we’re not saying Americans should not travel to Turkey. In any such instance, whether it was Brussels, whether it was Paris after the terrorist attacks there, we’re simply reminding Americans, as if they need reminding, but certainly trying to remind them to be up to date on the current information, to bring with them their street smarts, if I could put it that way, and to just be situationally aware when they’re on the ground, and to be aware of these threats.”

Toner was asked if, when the State Department issued the June 27 warning, it had “any reason to believe that there would be an attack on June 28 or upcoming.”

“A travel warning is a travel warning,” he said. “If we had information, credible information about an imminent threat or a developing situation, even if it wasn’t a terrorist attack, but any, you know — a natural disaster pending — looming, what we’d use is an emergency message. And that is reserved, as I said, for imminent events or threats that may require action on behalf of U.S. citizens.”

“…I’m not going to discuss necessarily specific details of the threat information we have. Except, as I said, in the case of where we had actionable intelligence that a given site was going to be targeted. I can say that we would reiterate the language of our — in our latest travel warning for Turkey, which did note increased threats from terrorist groups.”

Toner did note, though, that the June 27 alert was “increased from the previous travel warning.”

That wasn’t clear from comparing the two versions of the warning, and the spokesman was asked why — as “American citizens would have benefited from knowing on Monday that there was even more threats than there had been in March.”

Toner replied that he wanted “to go back and double check on whether that’s the fact, that there was between the last one and this current one that there was more threat information.”

“I don’t want to draw unnecessarily a link between the issuance of this travel warning and yesterday’s tragic attack at Ataturk Airport,” he said. “I think this vehicle, which is the travel warning, is simply a way to periodically update the American public on where we stand, how we assess the security of a given country. And it can be for a lot of reasons, not just terrorism, although that’s probably the reason we talk about most.”

The U.S. consulate in Istanbul issued a message to U.S. citizens on Tuesday urging them “to directly contact concerned family members in the United States to advise them of your safety.”

“Review your personal security and communication plans, remain aware of your surroundings including local events, and monitor local news media for updates,” the message said. “Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security, and follow the instructions of local authorities.”