State Dept global travel alert over al-Qaeda threat - KMSP-TV

White House holds meeting to discuss travel alert over al-Qaeda threat

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(FOX NEWS) -

Top U.S. officials met Saturday to review the Al Qaeda threat that prompted the State Department to issue a worldwide travel alert and close down 22 embassies and consulates for the weekend.

The meeting, that took place on Saturday afternoon, was chaired by National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the Principals Committee to "further review the situation and follow-up actions," according to the White House.

Among those at the meeting Saturday afternoon were the secretaries of state, defense and homeland security and the directors of the FBI and CIA. Rice then joined Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, in briefing the president, the White House said in a statement.

"The president has received frequent briefings over the last week on all aspects of the potential threat and our preparedness measures," according to the statement.

The travel alert was the first of its kind since an announcement preceding the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It came as Washington prepared to close its embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world this Sunday over security concerns.

U.S. officials have not offered many details on the nature of the threat, but apparently are taking it seriously.

On Friday, the threat was described by Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, as "very specific."

"We're not certain exactly where something might happen but it's very specific as to when and it's also very specific as to the fact that it is going to happen, so we have to be on alert everywhere," the New York Republican told WINS-AM.

The travel alert was the first of its kind since an announcement preceding the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It came as Washington prepared to close its embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world this Sunday over security concerns.

A White House official said Friday night President Obama was being updated on "a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula."

An official told Fox News on Saturday that the president will get updates through his birthday weekend, which includes a retreat to Camp David, from Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco.

"There is a significant threat stream and we're reacting to it," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told ABC News in an interview to be aired Sunday that the threat was "more specific" than previous ones and the "intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests."

King, a former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told WINS-AM that Americans abroad should register with the U.S. consulates in the countries they are visiting.

"I would let the American embassy know where you are. Basically check in and tell them where you are and how long you plan to stay there and what your itinerary is," King said.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the alert indicates the U.S. government must have some "pretty good information" about a possible threat.

Great Britain announced Friday night it would also close its embassy in Yemen "as a precautionary measure" on Sunday and Monday and urged its nationals to leave the country.

The travel alert issued Friday warned Americans of the "continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula."

It said: "Current information suggests that al-Qa'ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August."

The alert reminded Americans about the potential for attacks on transit systems and other "tourist infrastructure."

Pentagon officials also said there is an increased alert among security personnel in the region in response to the Al Qaeda terror threats.

"Actions have been taken," one Pentagon official told Fox News.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a Fox News military analyst, said the threat is yet another sign that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are emboldened -- and stressed that the U.S. needs to do a better job securing its embassies.

"It has got to be one of our top priorities," he told Fox News.

Keane said it appears Al Qaeda is trying build off the Benghazi terror attack. "When they sense weakness, they attack," he said. "They believe that we're pulling back, and they were stunned ... that we did not come after them immediately after that attack."

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the embassy threat was linked to Al Qaeda and concerned the Middle East and Central Asia.

"In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should," Royce said. He declined to say if the National Security Agency's much-debated surveillance program helped reveal the threat.

The New York Times reported Friday night that American officials said the U.S. had intercepted electronic communications among senior operatives of Al Qaeda.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, also supported the department's decision to go public with its concerns.

"The most important thing we have to do is protect American lives," he said, describing the threat as "not the regular chitchat" picked up from would-be militants on the Internet or elsewhere.

State Department officials said Thursday, after announcing the temporary shutdown of embassies and consulates on Sunday, that they were acting out of an "abundance of caution."

Spokeswoman Marie Harf cited information indicating a threat to U.S. facilities overseas and said some diplomatic facilities may stay closed for more than a day.

The agency added the U.S. Consulate in Basrah, Iraq, to the list Saturday.

Sunday is a normal workday in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries, meaning that is where the closures will have an impact. Embassies in Europe and Latin America would be shuttered that day anyway. The State Department on Friday released a list of 21 embassies and consulates affected.

"We have instructed all U.S. embassies and consulates that would have normally been open on Sunday to suspend operations, specifically on August 4," a senior State Department official said Thursday night. "It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well."

The issue of security abroad has been prominent since the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and a string of demonstrations on other U.S. embassies in the Middle East and North Africa.

 
Fox News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Online resource:

- Current Travel Warnings: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html

 

 

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