US extends closure of Mideast missions over Qaeda threat

WASHINGTON: US missions across the Middle East and Africa will be closed through August 10 after US intelligence uncovered what lawmakers said was the most serious threats of an Al-Qaeda attack in years.

The US State Department, noting it was acting “out of an abundance of caution,” said 19 diplomatic outposts would be shuttered through Saturday.

Britain said its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the end of the Muslim festival of Eid, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan, “due to continuing security concerns.”

France also said its mission there would remain shut until Thursday.

Eid is due to end at the weekend.

The US list includes 15 embassies or consulates that were already closed on Sunday due to the security fears, as well as four additional posts. At least 25 US missions had initially been ordered closed.

US lawmakers on Sunday said the move was prompted by electronic intercepts of high-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives signaling a major attack.

The intercepts were “probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen, perhaps, since 9/11,” said Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

An attack appeared to be “imminent,” possibly timed to coincide with the last night of holy month of Ramazan, McCaul told CBS.

Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there has been “an awful lot of chatter” among terrorists about planning an attack, all “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11”.

Chambliss, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said a National Security Agency program that electronically intercepts mobile phone and e-mail communication helped gather intelligence about this threat.

The NSA programs have come under intense scrutiny since former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden leaked information to the press about the scope of the surveillance.

“If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys,” said Chambliss, who described the information as “the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years.”

Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that US officials “received information that high level people from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are talking about a major attack.”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News the threats were “more specific” than previous threats.

While an exact target was unknown, “the intent seems clear. The intent is to attack Western, not just US, interests,” Dempsey said.

ABC News cited an unnamed US official as saying there was concern that Al-Qaeda might deploy suicide attackers with surgically implanted bombs to evade security.

The diplomatic posts to be closed through Saturday included those in: Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis.

The new closures are located in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius. The outposts that are reopening include those in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Iraq, and Israel.

Security was especially tight in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Sunday where Britain, France and Germany also shut their embassies.

Soldiers with armored personnel carriers were stationed outside the buildings as police and army checkpoints went up on all the city’s main thoroughfares.

Residents said they heard the sound of a drone overhead, which could only be American as Washington is the sole power to operate the unmanned aircraft in the region. (AFP)