US issues global travel alert, warns of Al-Qaeda threat
WASHINGTON, USA - Fears of an Al-Qaeda terror strike prompted the United States to issue a worldwide travel alert and order its embassies across the Islamic world temporarily closed.
Germany and Britain meanwhile announced that their embassies in the Arab and Muslim country of Yemen would be closed on Sunday, August 4, and Monday, August 5, for security reasons.
The US State Department warning, issued Friday, August 2, warned of unspecified plans by the Al-Qaeda network to launch an attack against US interests in the Middle East or North Africa during the month of August.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey told ABC News that the threats were directed at Western interests, and 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 in an interview for the program "This Week."
As a precaution, the State Department said it was closing at least 22 US embassies or consulates on Sunday, a work day in many Islamic countries.
Both Germany and Britain later announced that their embassies in Yemen would be closed Sunday and Monday.
The German Foreign Ministry referred to the risk of "terrorist attacks in certain isolated parts of the country but also in the capital Sanaa," while Britain's Foreign Office said the embassy was closing due to increased security concerns in the final days of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan – which ends in a few days – and the upcoming Eid holiday.
President Barack Obama ordered his national security team to "take all appropriate steps to protect the American people," a White House official said.
"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 said in the worldwide travel alert for US citizens.
The attacks were possible "particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula."
The alert warned of "the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure."
Hours after the US alert was issued, an audio recording was posted on militant Islamist forums in which Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri accused the US of "plotting" with Egypt's military, secularists and Christians to overthrow Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
In his first public comment on the July 3 military coup, the Egyptian-born Zawahiri said: "Crusaders and secularists and the Americanized army have converged ... with Gulf money and American plotting to topple Mohamed Morsi's government."
In the 15-minute recording, Zawahiri also accused Egypt's Coptic Christian minority of supporting the Islamist president's ouster to attain "a Coptic state stripped from Egypt's south."
Zawahiri, who belonged to the militant Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, criticized Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement for going soft on applying strict Islamic law.
Unnamed US officials told the New York Times that the warning was prompted after US officials intercepted electronic communications during the week among senior Al-Qaeda operatives who discussed strikes on US interests in the Muslim world.
"This was a lot more than the usual chatter," one senior US official briefed on the information told the Times.
The decision to go public and announce a threat comes as the US government faces criticism over surveillance of citizens, which Obama says is necessary for security.
The United States responded furiously on Thursday, August 1, after Russia gave asylum to Edward Snowden, a former US contractor who revealed details of US snooping.
Under a policy since the 1988 Pan Am flight bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, the United States is obliged to share with its private citizens any safety information provided to US government employees.
Nancy Pelosi, the leader of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, said that congressional leaders were briefed on the threat.
The United States has been especially cautious about security since an attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 last year.
The assault blamed on Islamist militants killed 4 Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of failing to ensure adequate security at the Benghazi consulate.
Under Obama, US forces in 2011 killed Al-Qaeda's fugitive leader Osama bin Laden in a secret raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. - Rappler.com