Lawmakers and U.S. officials are warning of possible terror threats to American interests abroad following the State Department’s rare step to issue a worldwide alert for all U.S. citizens traveling overseas through August.
The State Department also plans to close at least 22 U.S. embassies and consulates in 17 countries throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa on Sunday in response to warnings that al-Qaida and its affiliates “may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the terror group’s intended location and actions were “unspecified.” However, Dempsey said Western, and not just American interests were clear targets for a potential attack. ”There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it,” Dempsey told ABC News on Friday.
Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on Friday warned the threats are “real and serious and we must not let our guard down.”
“The seriousness of the threat stream is a sober reminder of al-Qaida’s determination and ongoing intention to commit acts of violence on western and U.S. targets,” Rogers said in a statement.
The shuttered diplomatic posts could remain closed for additional days, a State Department official told NBC News. Britain joined precautions and plans to close its embassy in Yemen for Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth office said in a statement Friday.
U.S. officials are also keeping tabs on rumblings in Yemen, NBC News reports. On Thursday, President Obama met with Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Washington, just hours after the U.S. launched its third covert drone strike in Yemen this past week alone. At least three people identified as suspected al-Qaida militants were killed, Reuters reports.
The White House says Obama will continue to receive updates on the potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula this weekend. Vice President Joe Biden met with top leaders in Congress before the August recess on Friday to brief them on the potential plot.
“It is a very serious threat, probably the most detailed threat, or specific threat, I’ve seen in the last five to ten years,” said New York Rep. Peter King.
Amid the stream of threats, U.S. officials are “sensitive” to the dark shadow cast by the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans last year, said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce. However it is “probably now prudent, given the fact that, in this case, we do have this intelligence, to take this step to make certain that we have fully protected our embassy personnel,” Royce told msnbc on Friday.