US reopens Tel Aviv embassy, but extends closures across region

State Department cites ‘abundance of caution’ surrounding Eid terror warning, but notes no indication of new threat

A Yemeni soldier inspects a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the US embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Hani Mohammed)
A Yemeni soldier inspects a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the US embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Hani Mohammed)

The US State Department on Sunday announced the extension of the closure of 19 US embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa through to Saturday August 10, but removed its Tel Aviv posting from the watch list.

Over the weekend, security forces closed roads, put up extra blast walls and increased patrols near some of the 21 diplomatic missions in Asia and Middle East — including Israel — that Washington had ordered closed following warnings of a possible al-Qaeda attack.

In a statement on its website, the State Department indicated that the decision to extend the closures was not based on concerns about “a new threat stream,” but out of an “abundance of caution” and “given that a number of [our] embassies and consulates were going to be closed in accordance with local custom and practice for the bulk of the week for the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan.”

The statement emphasized US “commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect [our] employees including local employees and visitors to [our] facilities.”

The posts closed for operations include Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Sanaa and Tripoli. Posts that will resume normal activity on Monday include Tel Aviv, Dhaka, Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad.

On Saturday, top US officials met to review the threat of a terrorist attack that led to the weekend closure of 21 US embassies and consulates in the Muslim world and a global travel warning to Americans. President Barack Obama was briefed following the session, the White House said.

Among those at the meeting Saturday afternoon were the secretaries of state, defense and homeland security and the directors of the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency, according to the White House. Also attending was Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In an interview Friday with ABC News, Dempsey said officials had determined there was “a significant threat stream” and that the threat was more specific than previous ones. The “intent is to attack Western, not just US interests,” he said.

The global travel warning was the first such alert since an announcement before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The warning comes less than a year since the deadly September attack on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and with the Obama administration and Congress determined to prevent any similar breach of an American embassy or consulate.

The State Department’s warning urged US travelers to take extra precautions overseas. It cited potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists, and noted that previous attacks have centered on subway and rail networks as well as airplanes and boats.

The statement said that al-Qaeda or its allies might target either US government or private American interests. The alert expires on Aug. 31.

The State Department said the potential for terrorism was particularly acute in the Middle East and North Africa, with a possible attack occurring on or coming from the Arabian Peninsula.

US officials pointed specifically to Yemen, the home of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate and the network blamed for several notable plots against the United States, from the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit to the explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

“Current information suggests that al-Qaeda 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 department statement said.

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