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Britain to close embassy in Yemen for two days amid terror threat

August 02, 2013|By Paul Richter
  • Yemeni soldiers stand guard in front of the U.S. Embassy in Sana following a suicide attack Sept. 18, 2008.
Yemeni soldiers stand guard in front of the U.S. Embassy in Sana following… (Yayha Arhab / EPA )

WASHINGTON -- Britain announced Friday that it will close its embassy in Yemen this weekend, a move that suggests London may believe a terrorist threat causing concern in Washington emanates from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen-based affiliate.

The State Department is temporarily closing 21 embassies and consulates in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia on Sunday and has issued a worldwide travel alert warning Americans that there could be terror attacks at any time. U.S. officials said the closures will likely remain in effect for a few days.

British and American authorities would not comment on whether they believe Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the source of the threat, but the group is the only Al Qaeda-affiliated organization that has shown an interest in striking U.S. interests in the region.

Although Britain is closing its embassy in Yemen to the public on Sunday and Monday, it is not closing other diplomatic facilities in the region.

Seth Jones, a terrorism analyst with Rand Corp. and a former advisor to U.S. Special Operations Forces who speaks frequently to U.S. intelligence officials, said: "There are concerns about a major Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the warnings were based on “a significant threat stream, and we are reacting to it.”

“It is an Al Qaeda and affiliated threat” to attack Western interests, Dempsey told ABC News.

Although the U.S. government often releases warnings about travel to specific countries, Friday’s alert was the first worldwide warning since October 2011.

Officials released few details about the threat, although several emphasized the degree of anxiety involved.

“I’ve lived through a lot of threats, and this is a concerning one,” said a State Department official, speaking on  condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

“Part of the reason that you put out information like this is to let the terrorist know that you are aware,” the official said, noting that publicity can have a deterrent effect.

Officials said the threat could be tied to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends next week.

The State Department plans to close embassies and consulates in a strip of countries stretching from northwest Africa east to Bangladesh, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Libya.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the facilities were being closed out of “an abundance of caution.”

“Current information suggests that Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August," the department’s travel alert said.

It did not urge travelers to stay away from any countries, but urged them to take special precautions and to register with U.S. consulates.   


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