Threats of terrorism attacks are the "most specific and credible" since 9/11, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Security Committee, said Sunday.
"We're on a high state of alert," McCaul said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I must say, this is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I've seen, perhaps since 9/11. And that's why everybody is taking this so seriously."
McCaul noted that U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also called the threats "extremely significant."
The State Department Friday issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans, citing an unspecified al-Qaida threat; the bulletin said that the highest threat levels are the Middle East and North Africa, "and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arab Peninsula."
The State Department's warning with respect to the Arabian Peninsula is also significant, said McCaul, because al-Qaida operatives in that area are "probably the biggest threat to the homeland."
McCaul said "there is an al-Qaida faction that still talks about the West and hitting the homeland, and their expertise is chemical explosives and hitting the aviation sector, as we saw with the underwear bomber."
McCaul said the Obama administration's call to close 21 embassies over the weekend in light of the threat was "actually a very smart call, particularly in light of what happened in Benghazi when warnings were not heeded in that case," referring to last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stephens and four others on the embassy staff. "I'm glad to see that in this case, they're taking this very seriously."
In addition, McCaul said that embassies are also under threat because of the recent prison breaks in Iraq, Pakistan and other locations.
"Literally thousands of terrorists have been broken out of jails, and they're spread all throughout the Middle East now," said McCaul. "That presents a very high threat as well."
McCaul said he could not give exact details about the threats, noting that they came from classified briefings.
"I'll tell you [it's being taken seriously] because of the specificity, because of where it's coming from, the credibility of it, and the level of chatter," said McCaul. "It seems to be a fairly large operation and it's giving the intelligence community quite a bit of pause right now."
The Muslim holy days of Ramadan are also coming to an end, and McCaul noted that Sunday marks the religion's "Night of Power."
The holy day marks the 27th night of Ramadan, when Muslims believe the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the prophet Mohammed, reports The Huffington Post
. While many consider the night as a time of reflection and prayer, the date has also proven significant for terrorism activities, McCaul said.
"It's a night that they tried the first attempt on the USS Cole," he said. "And this week 15 years ago, they bombed the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And (al-Qaida leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri has basically set out a decree to the jihadists on his website saying now is the time to attack U.S. interests. The warning from Zawahiri really comes right on the heels of the State Department warning, and so that's of grave concern to us."
McCaul refused comment about the sources and methods used to gather the terrorism threat information, even in the wake of controversy of National Security Agency surveillance of cell phones and Internet, but he did comment that there "may have been some loose intelligence on the part of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula -- and that's a good thing if that's happening."
Some intelligence agents have criticized the Obama administration
, saying too much information about the attack potential was released.
However, McCaul said that the State Department did well with announcing the "imminent" threat.
"When you let them know that you know, you put them on their heels, and they oftentimes back down," said McCaul. "I'm hopeful in this case that will happen as well. And I want to assure the American people we are doing everything we to protect them and to prevent this from happening."
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