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U.S. issues global travel alert over al-Qaida threat

By Bradley Klapper

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:50 p.m. HST, Aug 02, 2013

WASHINGTON » The United States issued an extraordinary global travel warning to Americans today about the threat of an al-Qaida attack and closed down 21 embassies and consulates across the Muslim world for the weekend.

The alert was the first of its kind since an announcement preceding the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This one comes with the scars still fresh from last year's deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and with the Obama administration and Congress determined to prevent any similar breach of an American Embassy or consulate.

"There is a significant threat stream and we're reacting to it," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told ABC News in an interview to be aired Sunday that the threat was "more specific" than previous ones and the "intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests."

The State Department warning urged American travelers to take extra precautions overseas, citing potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists and noting 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 U.S. consulates in the countries they visit.

The statement said that al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests. The alert expires on Aug. 31.

The State Department said the potential for terrorism was particularly acute in the Middle East and North Africa, with a possible attack occurring on or coming from the Arabian Peninsula.

U.S. officials pointed specifically to Yemen, the home of al-Qaida's most dangerous offshoot and the network blamed for several notable terrorist plots on the United States, from the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit to the explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

"Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations 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," a department statement said.

The alert was posted a day after the U.S. announced it would shut many diplomatic facilities Sunday. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department acted out of an "abundance of caution" and that some missions may stay closed for longer than a day. Sunday is a business day in Muslim countries, and the diplomatic offices affected stretch from Mauritania in northwest Africa to Afghanistan.

"I don't know if I can say there was a specific threat," said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the House Foreign Affairs Committee's top Democrat, who was briefed on the State Department's decision. "There is concern over the potentiality of violence."

Although the warning coincided with "Al-Quds Day," the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan when people in Iran and some Arab countries express their solidarity with the Palestinians and their opposition to Israel, U.S. officials played down any connection. They said the threat wasn't directed toward a specific American diplomatic facility.

The concern by American officials over the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is not new, given the terror branch's gains in territory and reach during Yemen's prolonged Arab Spring-related instability.

The group made significant territorial gains last year, capturing towns and cities in the south amid a power struggle in the capital that ended with the resignation of Yemen's longtime leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. A U.S.-aided counteroffensive by the government has since pushed the militants back.

Yemen's current president, Abdo Rabby Mansour Hadi, met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, where both leaders cited strong counterterrorism cooperation. Earlier this week, Yemen's military reported a U.S. drone strike killed six alleged al-Qaida militants in the group's southern strongholds.

As recently as June, the group's commander, Qasim al-Rimi, released an Arabic-language video urging attacks on U.S. targets and praising the ethnic Chechen brothers accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. "Making these bombs has become in everyone's ... reach," he said, according to the English subtitles on the video, reposted by private U.S. intelligence firm the IntelCenter.

"The blinking red intelligence appears to be pointing toward an Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula plot," said Seth Jones, counterterror expert at the Rand Corp., referring to the branch of al-Qaida known as AQAP.

Britain also took action Friday in Yemen, announcing it would close its embassy there on Sunday and Monday as a precaution.

Britain, which closely coordinates on intelligence matters with Washington, stopped short of releasing a similar region-wide alert but added that some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn "due to security concerns." British embassies and consulates elsewhere in the Middle East were to remain open.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the embassy threat was linked to al-Qaida and concerned the Middle East and Central Asia.

"In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should," Royce said. He declined to say if the National Security Agency's much-debated surveillance program helped reveal the threat.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, also supported the department's decision to go public with its concerns.

"The most important thing we have to do is protect American lives," he said, describing the threat as "not the regular chitchat" picked up from would-be militants on the Internet or elsewhere.

The State Department issued another warning a year ago about potential violence connected to the Sept. 11 anniversary. Dozens of American installations were besieged by protests over reports of an anti-Islam video made by an American resident, and in Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed when militants assaulted a diplomatic post.

The administration no longer says Benghazi was related to the demonstrations. But the attack continues to be a flashpoint of contention with Republicans in Congress who say Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others in the government misled the country about the nature of the attack after failing to provide adequate diplomatic protection.


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Sagar Meghani and Kimberly Dozier in Washington and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.


State Department alerts: travel.state.gov

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: step.state.gov

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palani wrote:
"In Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed when militants assaulted a diplomatic post. The administration no longer says that attack was related to the demonstrations."

No, it turns out that the deaths of four Americans were a "phony scandal". As Benghazi Bungler Hillary Clinton asked, "What difference does it make?"


on August 2,2013 | 05:56AM
Anonymous wrote:
is the State department closing New York? There is a Muslim temple right near the old World Trade Center site...Why isn't the State department defending USA territory? The Embassies are all on American Soil...
on August 2,2013 | 10:58AM
nippy68 wrote:
get the heeeeelllll out of any muslim nation..... but the republicans can stay!
on August 2,2013 | 06:30AM
allie wrote:
The Neo-cons are complainign that Americans are noted enough. Gotta be scared to be controlled.
on August 2,2013 | 06:58AM
HD36 wrote:
Ya see, you let us record all your phone calls and internet activity and we'll give you a warning that may save your life if you travel to North Africa or the Middle East.
on August 2,2013 | 06:46AM
false wrote:
But i thought everyone around the world loves us now and the seas would stop rising...
on August 2,2013 | 07:24AM
false wrote:
Can't wait for the spin machine...
on August 2,2013 | 07:26AM
pcman wrote:
IRT false on spin. This report is a lie. Obama said the war on terrorism is over since he ordered the killing of Bin Laden. Benghazi was a phony scandal. That's what Obama said. Whew, good thing he is our leader and the leader of the free world. There is no war in the Middle East; there is more peace now than when Bush was President. Trust me, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for creating all this peace in the world.
on August 2,2013 | 07:36AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Pcman, your evaluation on Pres. Obama and his administration is a bullseye.
on August 2,2013 | 07:50AM
allie wrote:
on August 2,2013 | 01:11PM
false wrote:
Must be president boehner's fault and that darn republican led senate. Wish we could get back that powerful 1/3 majority those darn democrats have in the house.
on August 2,2013 | 07:32AM
AhiPoke wrote:
In the words of Hilary Clinton, "What does it matter?"
on August 2,2013 | 07:57AM
allie wrote:
quote taken out of context
on August 2,2013 | 01:11PM
BKauai wrote:
Really? I thought the war on terror was over. I thought since OBAMA got UBL this tidy package was all nicely wrapped up. That's why this State Dept. doesn't use that naughty T-word anymore. And now they say that muslims still want to kill Americans? I'm flabbergasted. And here I was planning my summer vacation to the shores of Tripoli. -- Hook-Line-Sinker-Obama
on August 2,2013 | 10:31AM
IAmSane wrote:
These are some Yahoo! News-quality comments here.
on August 2,2013 | 01:06PM
TLehel wrote:
This warning is obviously a ploy to persuade Americans to have the NSA program reinstated. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if a "terrorist" attack is comitted for that extra push. You can't fool me, government.
on August 2,2013 | 01:09PM
LanaUlulani wrote:

Actually American government which includes Obama are more dangerous to us than al Qaida!

Manufactured crap!

on August 2,2013 | 01:33PM
LanaUlulani wrote:

Actually American government which includes Obama are more dangerous to us than al Qaida !

on August 2,2013 | 01:34PM
cojef wrote:
Love your post as the path he is taking or leading our Country into certainly do not have room for "rugged individualism". His path is Big Government for subserviants with arms outstretched seeking hand-outs from "Big Brother" . One size fits all.
on August 2,2013 | 04:45PM
Ronin006 wrote:
It makes no sense to close embassies and consulates in some Muslim countries this coming weekend because of a terrorists threat and then tell the terrorists who are planning an attack that it is being done. Any terrorists with a brain will simply change the date of the planned attack. A better course of action would have been for the US to issue a travel advisory and increase security at embassies and consulates.
on August 2,2013 | 01:53PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
We should close all Muslim embassys randomly with no press announcing the reason. Like the cylons did in the second battlestar series.
on August 2,2013 | 05:51PM
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