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Al Qaeda threat forces US to shut 22 embassies

Last updated on: August 04, 2013 13:37 IST

The United States has increased security at all its major airports and railway stations, and has taken a number of measures, that include temporary closure of its 22 diplomatic missions, following a "very specific" Al Qaeda threat emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.

US President Barack Obama himself is keeping a close tab on the developments and the threat, which the officials did not disclose. National Security Advisor Susan Rice held a meeting of top US national security officers to review the potential terror threat coming from the Arabian Peninsula.

The president, who early this week, had instructed his national security team to take all appropriate steps to protect the American people in light of the threats, himself is receiving briefings regularly on this issue and keeping a close tab on the developments. "Given the nature of the potential threat, throughout the week, Assistant to the President for homeland security and

counter-terrorism Lisa Monaco has held regular meetings with relevant members of the inter-agency to ensure the US Government is taking those appropriate steps," the White House said. However, it did not give details of the terrorist threat and where it is emanating from.

Rice on Friday chaired a meeting with the principals committee to review the situation and follow-up actions. Obama has received frequent briefings over the last week on all aspects of the threat reports and the preparedness measures. He was again briefed by Rice on the developments.

On Friday, the US state department issued a worldwide travel alert and close down 22 embassies and consulates on Sunday in view of the Al Qaeda threat.

Congressman Peter King, chairman of the sub-committee on counter-terrorism and intelligence, said the threat was very specific, but he did not divulge any details. "We're not certain exactly where something might happen but it's very specific as to when and it's also very specific as to the fact that it is going to happen, so we have to be on alert everywhere," King told a news channel.

In view of the terrorist threat, the department of homeland security had on Saturday increased security measures at airports, train stations and other transportation hubs. It expanded scrutiny of visitors coming into the US.

According to an official from the Department of Homeland Security, such measures are being taken out of an abundance of caution.

"As always, our security posture, which at all times includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond appropriately to protect American people from an ever-evolving threat picture," the official said.

On Friday, the state department had issued a worldwide terror alert for its citizens, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. "Current information suggests that the Al Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August," the state department said.

"The department of state alerts US citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula," the statement said about the worldwide travel alert, which expires on August 31.

According to the travel alert, terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.

US citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.

"The department of state has instructed certain US embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4," state department spokesperson Marie Harf said.

"The department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps," she said.

The US embassies and consulates, which have announced that they would be closed on Sunday are those situated in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Amman in Jordan, Baghdad, Cairo, Dhahran, Djibouti, Dhaka, Doha, Dubai, Erbil, Jeddah, Kabul, Khartoum in Sudan, Kuwait City, Manama, Muscat, Nouakchott in Mauritinia, Riyadh, Sana'a in Yeman and Tripoli in Libya.

Image: A US flag flies in front of the Annex I building inside the compound of the embassy in Baghdad

Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Lalit K Jha in Washington, DC
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