UPDATE 4:40 p.m. EDT: The U.S. State Department said Sunday it was extending the closures through Saturday for most of the embassies and consualtes that were closed Sunday.
Original story begins here:
The U.S. State Department on Friday issued a global travel alert to U.S. citizens over fears of potential terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly originating in the Arabian Peninsula.
The alert was issued shortly after the State Department announced that several U.S. embassies and consulates will be shut down on Sunday, as a precautionary measure over security considerations. U.S. officials who spoke to the Associated Press said that the closures will be applicable to U.S. diplomatic missions in the “Muslim world,” where Sunday is a working day.
“Current information suggests that al-Qaida 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. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013,” the State Department said.
U.S. officials told the New York Times that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted electronic communications this week among senior al Qaeda leaders, who spoke about attacks against U.S. targets in the Middle East and North Africa.
“This was a lot more than the usual chatter,” a top U.S. official who was familiar with the matter told the Times.
The State Department said terrorists may put to use a “variety of means and weapons” to target both “official and private interests,” adding: “U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”
“Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” the State Department said.
U.S. citizens were recommended to register their travel plans with the consular section of the U.S. embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website and to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which makes it easier for U.S. officials to contact travelers in case of emergency. Those who do not have access to the Internet were urged to register their travel at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in person.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters that House leaders have been briefed about the security threat, adding that the State Department’s warnings to diplomatic facilities and U.S. citizens provided “some understanding of the seriousness of the threat,” CNN reported.