National Security Adviser Susan Rice was a key force behind the closure this weekend of U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East and North Africa, a move apparently designed to head off a possible attack like the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, in September.
According to Fox News sources
, Rice led a meeting Saturday with top administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The State Department on Thursday ordered 22 embassies
and consulates closed. Nineteen of them will remain shuttered through the end of the week.
Diplomatic facilities in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, among other countries, will remain shuttered through Aug. 10. The State Department announcement Sunday also added closures of four African sites, in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda, and Mauritius.
The administration, meanwhile, reopened some diplomatic missions on Monday, including those in Kabul, Afghanistan, and in Baghdad, Iraq.
Rice, the United Nations ambassador at the time of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks, was heavily criticized for initially describing the incident as a protest against an anti-Islam YouTube video. The administration later acknowledged that the attack, which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, was the work of a possible al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group and not a reaction to the video.
The controversy ruined Rice's chances at becoming secretary of state, which would have required Senate confirmation. But Obama in June named her national security adviser, which requires no confirmation.
The weekend threat alerts escalated when al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued demands that key leaders in the movement increase their activities, pressuring them to launch new attacks on Western and American targets.
According to Fox News, one Middle East diplomat called the pressure "unprecedented," and said it led to U.S. intelligence picking up a great deal of chatter after months of "absolute quietness" on phone lines, websites, and other means.
Fox News reported that the weekend threat was also intensified by recent al-Qaida prison breaks in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan that freed hundreds of operatives over the last month.
Yemen also shared information that led to the embassy closures, the sources told Fox News, even though the country is home to one of al-Qaida's most dangerous affiliates, which has created several terrorism plots against the U.S., including a foiled Christmas Day 2009 plan to blow up an airliner over Detroit.
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