The United States yesterday issued a global travel alert citing an al-Qaeda
threat that also caused the State Department to close its embassies on Sunday
around the Muslim world.
The State Department warned American citizens of the potential for terrorism - particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, with a possible attack occurring or coming from the Arabian Peninsula.
"Current information suggests that al-Qaeda 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.
The 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.
The alert was posted a day after the US announced it would close diplomatic facilities 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. Sunday is a business day in Muslim countries.
Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday the embassy threat was linked to al-Qaeda 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-Qaeda 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. It recommended that American travelling overseas register with consular authorities on a travel registration website. The alert expires on August 31.
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