US diplomatic posts in 19 cities across the world will be closed at least through the end of this week, amid online “chatter” about terror threats, the US Department of State said.
One lawmaker on an intelligence committee called it the most serious threat he had seen in several years.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision to keep the embassies and consulates closed is a sign of an “abundance of caution” and is “not an indication of a new threat.”
Diplomatic facilities will remain closed in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other countries, through Saturday. The State Department announcement on Sunday added closures of four African sites, in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius.
The US decided to reopen some posts yesterday, including those in Kabul and Baghdad.
The intelligence intercepts also prompted the UK, Germany and France to close their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and yesterday.
British authorities said some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn “due to security concerns.”
France yesterday said that it would extend the closure of its embassy in the Yemeni capital through tomorrow.
Interpol, the French-based international policy agency, has also issued a global security alert in connection with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several recent prison escapes in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
US President Barack Obama’s administration announced on Friday that the posts would be closed over the weekend and the State Department announced a global travel alert, warning that al-Qaeda or its allies might target either US government or private US interests.
The intercepted intelligence foreshadowing an attack on US or Western interests is evidence of one of the gravest threats to the US since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to several lawmakers who made the rounds on the weekend talk shows.
“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” US Senator Saxby Chambliss told NBC on Sunday. “Chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that’s going on — very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”
Chambliss, the top Republican on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was that chatter that prompted the Obama administration to order the Sunday closure of 22 embassies and consulates and issue a global travel warning to Americans.
Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told ABC that the threat intercepted from “high-level people in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” was about a “major attack.”
Yemen is home to al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, blamed for several notable terrorist plots on the US. They include the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and the explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.
Representative Peter King, the Republican who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counter-terrorism and intelligence, told ABC the threat “was specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also that certain dates were given.”
Friday’s warning urged US travelers to take extra precautions overseas, citing potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists.
It said that previous terrorist attacks have centered on subway and rail networks, as well as airplanes and boats. It suggested travelers sign up for State Department alerts and register with US consulates in the countries they visit. The alert expires on Aug. 31.