ATLANTA, Aug. 3, 2013 — The Department of State is warning Americans to remain vigilant for possible al Qaida terrorist attacks in the Middle East and North Africa and issued a global travel warning to Americans asking them “adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”
Concurrently, the State Department closed down 21 embassies and consulates across the Muslim world for the weekend.
The alert, which comes less than a year after the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, warned “of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. The alert expires Aug. 31.
“Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services,” the alert continued. “U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings.”
The State Department also urged travelers to sign up for State Department alerts and register with U.S. consulates in the countries they visit.
The alert was the first of its kind since an announcement preceding the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This one comes with the scars still fresh from last year’s deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and with the Obama administration and Congress determined to prevent any similar breach of an American Embassy or consulate.
“In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should,” The Associated Press quoted Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, as saying. He declined to say if the National Security Agency’s much-debated surveillance program helped reveal the threat.
Although the warning coincided with “Al-Quds Day,” the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan when people in Iran and some Arab countries express their solidarity with the Palestinians and their opposition to Israel, U.S. officials played down any connection. They said the threat wasn’t directed toward a specific American diplomatic facility.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber on Saturday struck the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the wake of the warning, The Associated Press reported. At least nine people were killed and two dozen injured in the attack, according to reports.
The concern by American officials over the Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is not new, given the terror branch’s gains in territory and reach during Yemen’s prolonged Arab Spring-related instability.
The group made significant territorial gains last year, capturing towns and cities in the south amid a power struggle in the capital that ended with the resignation of Yemen’s longtime leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. A U.S.-aided counteroffensive by the government has since pushed the militants back.
Yemen’s current president, Abdo Rabby Mansour Hadi, met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, where both leaders cited strong counterterrorism cooperation. Earlier this week, Yemen’s military reported a U.S. drone strike killed six alleged al-Qaida militants in the group’s southern strongholds.
“We continue to work closely with other nations on the threat from international terrorism, including from al-Qa’ida,” the statement continued. “Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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