Aug 4, 2013

Al Qaeda message triggered alert

Al Qaeda message triggered alert. An intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives in the last several days raised alarm bells that led to the closing of embassies and consulates Sunday across the Middle East and North Africa, CNN has learned.

CNN has agreed to a request from an Obama administration official not to publish or broadcast additional details because of the sensitivity of the information.

Several U.S. officials also emphasized they have been watching growing threats emerging from Yemen for weeks.

Those threats, combined with the coming end of the month of Ramadan, plus the concern over several major prison breaks in the region, all contributed to the U.S. decision to shut down diplomatic installations.

Officials shuttered 22 U.S. embassies and consulates for the day on Sunday amid fears of an al Qaeda attack. On Sunday afternoon, the State Department said it had extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations until Friday and added four other posts to the list.

"This is not an indication of a new threat stream," the State Department said, "merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees, including local employees, and visitors to our facilities."

The widespread closure of diplomatic posts is an unprecedented move.

"We're doing what is necessary to protect our people," Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.

The closures stretch across a swath of Africa and the Middle East -- as far west as Mauritania, as far south as Madagascar and as far east as Oman. A U.S. global travel alert is also in place.

As White House and national security officials met to discuss the threat and U.S. military forces in the Middle East were put on a higher state of alert, Interpol warned that al Qaeda has been tied to prison breaks in the region that led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals.

It's unclear what locations are targeted by the apparent terror plot, U.S. lawmakers said Sunday.

"I think we know a lot more about the when than the where. And you can tell that from the breadth of the closures across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula," Schiff said. "But the when was very specific in terms of a Sunday. Obviously, that may continue and the closures may continue. The travel warning is more extensive. But this is not the usual kind of chatter, not the more generalized 'death to the Americans' or 'death to great Satan.' "

CNN national security analyst Fran Fragos Townsend said there could be a strategic reason for shutting down the diplomatic offices.

"Once you take targets away, it buys you additional time to try and disrupt, to identify the cell, the operators in country and the region, and work with your partners in the region to try and, you know, get them in custody or disrupt the plot," she said. "So, some of this operationally is about buying time."

Of particular concern is Yemen, where the government is "on high alert against possible attacks in the days to come," said a senior U.S. security official.

List of closures

The following U.S. posts will be closed Monday to Friday:

U.S. Embassy Manama, Bahrain

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura, Burundi

U.S. Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti

U.S. Embassy Cairo, Egypt

U.S. Embassy Amman, Jordan

U.S. Embassy Kuwait City, Kuwait

U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Libya

U.S. Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar

U.S. Embassy Port Louis, Mauritius

U.S. Embassy Muscat, Oman

U.S. Embassy Doha, Qatar

U.S. Embassy Kigali, Rwanda

U.S. Consulate Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

U.S. Consulate Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

U.S. Embassy Khartoum, Sudan

U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

U.S. Consulate Dubai, United Arab Emirates

U.S. Embassy Sanaa, Yemen