The United States announced Sunday that it will extend its embassy closures in the Middle East and North Africa for another week “out of an abundance of caution” in the wake of an al-Qaida threat that lawmakers and security experts have deemed the most serious in years.
Twenty-one U.S. diplomatic posts were shuttered on Sunday as part of the original warning that included a global travel alert. Some of those posts—including ones in Kabul, Baghdad and Algiers—have or will reopen today, while posts in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda, and Mauritius were added to the closure list for this week. According to the State Department, a number of the 19 embassies and consulates would have likely been shuttered for at least part of this week anyway due to the Eid celebration at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. “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,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday in a statement announcing the move.
The exact nature of the threat—including the location and specific target—remain unclear, although it appears to emanate from a particularly dangerous and active al-Qaida franchise in Yemen, according to the Washington Post. “It is more specific and we are taking it seriously, which I think you’d expect us to do,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told ABC News over the weekend. “There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it.” Dempsey added that while an exact target isn’t known “the intent seems clear” and it’s “to attack Western, not just U.S., interests.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a high-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, went slightly further during his appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, drawing a comparison to the days and weeks before the attacks of September 11th. “There has been an awful lot of chatter out there,” the Georgia lawmaker said. “Chatter means conversation about terrorists, about the planning that’s going on, very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11. We didn’t take heed on 9/11 on the way that we should [have]. But here, I think it’s important that we do take the right kind of planning as we come to the close of Ramadan, we know that’s always an interesting time for terrorists.”