WASHINGTON — The United States extended embassy closures by a week in the Middle East and Africa as a precaution yesterday after an al Qaeda threat that US lawmakers said was the most serious in years.
The State Department said 19 US embassies and consulates would be closed through Saturday “out of an abundance of caution” and that a number of them would have been closed anyway for most of the week due to the Eid celebration at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The United States initially closed 21 US diplomatic posts for the day yesterday. Some of those were due to be reopened today, including Kabul, Baghdad and Algiers.
Four new diplomatic posts — in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius — were added to the closure list for the week.
Last week, the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
“There is an awful lot of chatter out there,” US Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
He said the “chatter” — communications among terrorism suspects about the planning of a possible attack — was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11”.
A National Security Agency surveillance programme that electronically collects communications on cellphones and emails — known as intercepts — had helped gather intelligence about this threat, Chambliss said.
It was one of the NSA surveillance programmes revealed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to media outlets.
Those programmes “allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter,” Chambliss said. “If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.” (Reuters)