The United States will close a number of embassies and consulates on Aug. 4 as a "precautionary" step because of unspecified security concerns, a State Department official said Thursday.
"The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, Aug. 4," said Marie Harf, the department’s deputy spokeswoman. Harf didn’t say which diplomatic facilities would be closed, how many, where they are located, or the threats.
NBC News, however, quoted sources saying the threats were al-Qaida related. NBC News sources said the threat appeared to have originated somewhere in the Middle East and to be related to al-Qaida. It was aimed at overseas diplomatic posts, not at facilities inside the United States, they said.
A State Department official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the embassies and consulates that have been told to close are ones normally open on Sundays. That would include the embassies in the Muslim world, where the work week generally is from Sunday to Thursday.
The State Department issued a similar warning of possible attacks on or about Sept. 11, 2012, and Harf pointed reporters to a February 2013 State Department "Worldwide Caution" warning U.S. citizens that "current information suggests that al-Qaida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions."
The caution said security threat levels remain high in Yemen and that Iraq is "dangerous and unpredictable.” It also said that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is active in Algeria, has attacked Westerners near the borders with Mali and Libya, and has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and killings of Westerners throughout the region.
Thursday's announcement came after terrorist groups in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida, have freed hundreds of prisoners, and, as a newly discovered 2011 report suggests, the terrorist group is considering taking hostages in an effort to stop strikes by unmanned U.S. aircraft.
Documents purportedly from al-Qaida fighters in Mali obtained by The Associated Press outline a strategy of kidnapping "in exchange for the drone strategy."
Kidnappings would "bring back the pressure of the American public opinion in a more active way" against drones, according to the document, which the AP translated from Arabic to English, and is focused on Yemen.
Thursday in Pakistan, where such U.S. strikes have been an irritant to relations, Secretary of State John Kerry said the program may end soon. “I think the program will end, as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it,” Kerry said in an interview with Pakistan Television.
“I think the president has a very real timeline, and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon,” Kerry said.
In London, the U.K. Foreign Office said it will review safety at its embassies after the United States made its announcement, according to the newspaper The Telegraph.
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