The US State Department has extended the closure of nearly two dozen embassies mostly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from one day to a full week, citing tangible security threats. The State Department says that it is simply exercising caution, and has given few specifics about the nature of the threat, CNN reports.
“This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities,” read the State Department announcement.
U.S. intercepts al-Qaeda terrorist plot
With a raging civil war in Syria and continuing political unrest in Egypt, it’s not surprising for embassy security to get a boost, or for non-essential personnel to wait it out in more stable environs, but the breadth of the closings has surprised many people.
Although the details were withheld, CNN reported that the U.S. government intercepted an al-Qaeda message originating in Yemen that led security analysts to believe that AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) was in the final stages of planning a terrorist attack. Although the planners are based in Yemen, it’s clear from the State Department’s reaction that the attacks may occur in any number of countries.
Other considerations may have influenced the decision
There have also been a number of high-profile jailbreaks in Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan in the last few weeks freeing more than a thousand inmates thought to be associated with al-Qaeda. al-Qaeda has taken responsibility for the Iraqi jailbreak, and the Taliban has taken responsibility for the prison break in northern Pakistan. These three major actions in such a short timeframe has increased the overall threat level and is causing other threats from al-Qaeda to be taken more seriously.
Finally, the embassy closures span the end of Ramadan and the following Eid al-Fitr, an important religious holiday for Muslims. Many embassies in Muslim nations are closed on these dates regardless, and officials may have decided that there was little downside to extending the normal holiday closing by a few days in light of security concerns.
The entire list of closed embassies are:
- United Arab Emirates
- Saudi Arabia