Embassies on alert after US al-Qaida warning

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Staff at British embassies in the Middle East have been told to “exercise extra vigilance” after the United States issued a global travel alert over an al-Qaida threat.

And the British Embassy in Yemen is to close tomorrow and Monday, with a temporary draw-down of some staff.

The Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to the country, warning of a high threat of terrorism, and continued unrest.

American citizens have been warned of the potential for terrorism, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, as the US State Department announced it would close its embassies around the Muslim world tomorrow.

“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organisations 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 statement said.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said its advice for travellers to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Iraq had been updated to notify them of the US action.

She added: “The British embassies remain open but staff have been asked to exercise extra vigilance as we approach [the festival of] Eid. We remain in close contact with the US.”

The US alert asks American travellers to take extra precautions when travelling overseas and suggests they sign up for State Department alerts and register with consulates or embassies in the countries they are visiting.

It was posted a day after the US announced it would close diplomatic facilities tomorrow because of an unspecified threat. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department acted out of an “abundance of caution” and that some missions may stay closed for longer than a day.

Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the embassy threat was linked to al-Qaida and focused on the Middle East and Central Asia.

“We’ve had a series of threats,” he told reporters. “In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should.”

Dutch Ruppersberger, 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 chit chat” picked up from would-be militants on the internet or elsewhere.

The State Department issued a major warning last year informing American diplomatic facilities across the Muslim world about potential violence connected to the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Dozens of American installations were besieged by protests over an anti-Islam video made by an American resident.

In Benghazi, Libya, the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed when militants assaulted a diplomatic post, but the administration no longer says that attack was related to the demonstrations.

Yesterday’s alert warned that al- Qaida or its allies may target US government or private American interests. It cited dangers involved with public transport systems and other prime sites for tourists, noting that previous terrorist attacks have centred on subway and rail networks as well as aircraft and boats.

“US citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when travelling,” the department said.

Mr Ruppersberger said the US has invested greatly in research and protection system for US embassies and citizens since the Benghazi attack.