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By Associated Press, Published: August 3 | Updated: Sunday, August 4, 6:30 PM
The U.S. has also decided to reopen some posts on Monday, including those in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad.
The Obama administration announced Friday that the posts would be closed over the weekend and the State Department announced a global travel alert, warning that al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests.
The weekend closure of nearly two dozen U.S. diplomatic posts resulted from the gravest terrorist threat seen in years, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss said “the chatter” intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies led the Obama administration to shutter the embassies and consulates and issue a global travel warning to Americans.
“Chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that’s going on — very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11,” Chambliss, R-Ga., told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he said.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the threat intercepted from “high-level people in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula” was about a “major attack.”
Yemen is home to al-Qaida’s most dangerous affiliate, blamed for several notable terrorist plots on the United States. 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.
Rep. Peter King, who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, said the threat included dates but not locations of possible attacks.
“The threat was specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also that certain dates were given,” King, R-N.Y., said on ABC.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a House Intelligence Committee member, said the “breadth” of the closures suggests U.S. authorities are concerned about a potential repeat of last year’s riots and attacks at multiple embassies, including the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
In addition, Interpol, the French-based international policy agency, has issued a global security alert in connection with suspected al-Qaida involvement in several recent prison escapes including those in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
Those prison breaks add to the concerns about an attack, said Schiff, D-Calif., also noting the approaching end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“So you have a lot things coming together. … But all of that would not be enough without having some particularly specific information,” he said.
Schiff said he has seen no evidence linking the latest warnings to that agency’s collection of “vast amounts of domestic data.”
Other lawmakers defended the administration’s response and promoted the work of the NSA in unearthing the intelligence that lead to the security warnings.
“The bottom line is … that the NSA’s job is to do foreign intelligence,” Ruppersburger said. “The whole purpose is to collect information to protect us.”
Added King, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama, “Whether or not there was any controversy over the NSA at all, all these actions would have been taken.”
Friday’s warning from the State Department urged American travelers to take extra precautions overseas, citing potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists. It noted 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 alert expires Aug. 31.
The statement said al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests.
Associated Press writer Michele Salcedo contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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BREAKING: US State Dept. issues worldwide travel alert for US citizens through August 31 due to unspecified Al-Qaeda threat
By Catherine Chomiak and M. Alex Johnson, NBC News
The United States on Friday issued a worldwide travel alert to all Americans through Aug. 31 due to an unspecified al-Qaeda threat that led to embassy closures.
“The Department of State alerts U.S. 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,” it said.
“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. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.”
The alert was issued after the U.S. said that all American embassies and consulates that normally open on a Sunday would close on Aug. 4 because of a possible al Qaeda-related threat. A senior State Department official warned they could remain shut for an extended period.
At least 18 diplomatic posts were affected by the closure, with most posting details of the shutdowns on their websites.
The officials said the threat appeared to be related to al-Qaeda and tied to Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which ends Wednesday.
It was aimed at overseas diplomatic posts, not at facilities inside the U.S., they said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. 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.”
The senior State Department official said “we have instructed all U.S. Embassies and Consulates that would have normally been open on Sunday to suspend operations, specifically on August 4th.”
“It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well … The department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety,” the official added.
Notices on several embassies’ websites pointed to a “Worldwide Caution” issued by the State Department on Feb. 19 for further information.
“Credible information indicates terrorist groups … seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa,” it said. “The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.”
Sunday is a normal workday in Muslim countries and Israel.
The embassies and consulates due to close Sunday include: Algiers, Algeria, Sana’a, Yemen; Tel Aviv, Israel; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Ankara, Turkey; Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; Cairo, Egypt; Kabul, Afghanistan; Baghdad, Iraq; Amman, Jordan; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Manama, Bahrain; Tripoli, Libya; Nouakchott, Mauritania; and Doha, Qatar.
Harf, who didn’t say which or how many embassies would be closed, did not reveal what kind of information led to the decision.
She said they could be closed for a longer period “depending on our analysis.”
Sunday is President Barack Obama’s 52nd birthday, and it’s also the day Iran inaugurates Hassan Rowhani as its new president.
But U.S. officials told NBC News they had heard nothing to indicate that the date was chosen for either of those reasons.
Ian Johnston, Charlene Gubash and Robert Windrem of NBC News contributed to this report.
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August 02, 2013
The Department of State alerts U.S. 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. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida 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. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.
We continue to work closely with other nations on the threat from international terrorism, including from al-Qa’ida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.
We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Internet website attravel.state.gov where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.
In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, from other countries, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).