A terror alert that forced U.S. embassy closures across the Middle East and
Africa may stay in place all month, the White House warned.
"Our current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"And our information suggests that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August," he said.
The administration's decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert came after U.S. counter-terrorism officials intercepted electronic communications in which al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri -- who succeeded Osama bin Laden -- ordered the head of the terrorist group's Yemeni affiliate to carry out an attack as early as Sunday, U.S. officials told several news organizations.
U.S. officials and lawmakers of both parties Sunday described the intercepted conversations as revealing one of the most serious plots against U.S. and Western interests since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The threat is emanating from and may be directed toward the Arabian Peninsula, but it is beyond that, potentially," Carney said. "And that is why we have taken some of the actions we've taken."
Nineteen embassies and consulates -- including in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- will remain closed through at least Saturday, the State Department said. Embassies in Afghanistan, Algeria and Iraq reopened Monday after Sunday's one-day closure.
The extended embassy closures did not mean Washington had new threat information "but is more a reflection of taking necessary precautions," Carney said.
"We are going to keep evaluating information as it comes in, keep analyzing the various intelligence that we're getting in in regards to this stream," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday.
"I don't want people to think that we're leaning toward indefinite closure of these facilities -- we're focused on this week," she said.
Carney and Harf declined to link the terror threat to the National Security Agency's leaked electronic surveillance activities and programs.
"I'm not going to blend those two stories or those two issues together," Carney said. "We have a threat that we have advised the public about and discussed with you in the media, and we are acting in reaction to that threat."
Harf said the NSA matter "in no way at all -- period, 100 percent -- affects how we evaluate threat information coming in, specifically in terms of this threat."
The Yemeni al-Qaida affiliate, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is behind an attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit Dec. 25, 2009, using explosives sewn into a man's underwear.
In August 2009 the group tried to kill the Saudi intelligence chief, a member of the Saudi royal family, with a bomb surgically implanted in the attacker's body.
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