US closes diplomatic facilities in response to al Qaeda threat
The US government has ordered 21 diplomatic facilities closed this weekend in response to an al Qaeda threat.
"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," a worldwide travel alert reads.
The alert continues: "Current information suggests that al Qaeda 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."
The State Department has released a list of the diplomatic facilities to be closed. They are located in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Ordinarily, these facilities would be closed for part of the weekend. But the facilities would also normally be open on Sunday for business, as is custom in Muslim countries.
"The Department of State has instructed certain US embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th," Marie Harf, the State Department's deputy spokeswoman, explained to reporters. This was a "precautionary" step taken "out of an abundance of caution."
Some facilities may remain closed past Aug. 4, depending on the results of a security analysis, Harf added.
Multiple US embassy websites, such as the one for Cairo, have posted statements concerning the closures.
The US government has not provided any specific details concerning the threat at this time.
Citing US officials, the New York Times reports that there is "credible" intelligence indicating "that an al Qaeda regional affiliate might be plotting an attack sometime in the coming days."
CBS News reports that US intelligence officials have "picked up signs of an al Qaeda plot against American diplomatic posts in the Middle East and other Muslim countries," but the "intelligence does not mention a specific location, which is why all embassies that would normally be open on Sunday have been ordered to close."
September 2012: Al Qaeda-linked jihadists assault US diplomatic facilities
The embassy and consulate closures come nearly one year after al Qaeda-linked jihadists assaulted multiple US diplomatic facilities.
On Sept. 11, 2012, jihadists with known al Qaeda ties, including Mohammed al Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, orchestrated a protest outside of the US Embassy in Cairo. The embassy's walls were breached and an al Qaeda flag was hoisted in place of the stars and stripes. The Cairo protest was infused with al Qaeda symbolism, with protesters chanting, "Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!" That same chant was heard at other protests in the following days as well. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked jihadists helped incite 9/11 Cairo protest.]
Later that same day, jihadists from several al Qaeda-linked groups attacked the US Mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans. The terrorists responsible reportedly had ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as well as other al Qaeda-associated groups and Ansar al Sharia in Libya.
A group of Egyptians who took part in the Benghazi attack had been trained in camps run by Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, a longtime subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri. Al Kashef was in contact with Zawahiri during the months leading up the attack, and also has extensive, longstanding ties to the jihadists who incited the Cairo protest. [See LWJ reports, Old school Egyptian jihadists linked to 9/11 Cairo protest, Benghazi suspect and Communications with Ayman al Zawahiri highlighted in 'Nasr City cell' case.]
Two days after the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, still another al Qaeda-linked jihadist played a role in an anti-American protest, in Sana'a, Yemen. The US embassy there was stormed on Sept. 13, 2012, after Sheikh Abdul Majeed al Zindani called for protests, according to The New York Times. Zindani is a known al Qaeda supporter.
The US Treasury Department had added Zindani to its list of designated terrorist supporters in 2004, calling him an Osama bin Laden "loyalist." Zindani "has a long history of working with bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders," Treasury explained. Zindani "has been able to influence and support many terrorist causes, including actively recruiting for al Qaeda training camps" and "played a key role in the purchase of weapons on behalf of al Qaeda and other terrorists."
On Sept. 14, 2012, the US Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia was ransacked by Ansar al Sharia Tunisia and other Salafi jihadists. Seifallah ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi) is the head of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia and the co-founder of the Tunisian Combatant Group, which has been listed by the United Nations "as being associated with al Qaeda." In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, published in May, the State Department noted that ben Hassine "was implicated as the mastermind behind the September 14 attack on the US Embassy," which involved "a mob of 2,000 - 3,000" people, "including individuals affiliated with the militant organization Ansar al Sharia."
In early November 2012, Ayman al Zawahiri issued a message saying that the September raids on American diplomatic facilities were "defeats" for the US. Zawahiri specifically mentioned the killing of the US Ambassador in Benghazi, as well as the raising of al Qaeda-style flags over US Embassies elsewhere. [See LWJ report, Zawahiri says raids on diplomatic facilities were 'defeats' for US.]
Earlier this year, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's 10th edition of its Inspire magazine featured the September 2012 assaults on US diplomatic facilities. The cover picture showed a black flag commonly used by al Qaeda being raised in front of one of the embassies. The feature article was titled, "We Are All Usama," a reference to the chant heard in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.