State Dept: Posts in 19 Cities to Remain Closed
WASHINGTON -- U.S. diplomatic posts in 19 cities in the Mideast and Africa will remain closed for the rest of the week amid intercepted "chatter" about terror threats, which lawmakers briefed on the information likened to intelligence picked up before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
One lawmaker said the chatter was specific as to certain dates and the scope of the operation; others said it suggested that a major terrorist attack, akin to 9/11, was being planned by the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen.
Diplomatic facilities will remain closed in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other countries, through Saturday, Aug. 10. The State Department announcement Sunday added closures of four African sites, in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius. The U.S. reopened some posts on Monday, including those in Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad.
Last week the State Department announced a global travel alert, warning that al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests. It said Americans should take extra precautions overseas and cited potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision to keep certain embassies and consulates shuttered throughout the week was done out of an "abundance of caution" and to "protect our employees, including local employees, and visitors to our facilities."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday the briefings he has received "certainly emphasize these threats are specific and credible, equal if not more serious to the kind of chatter, as the intelligence called it, that was heard prior to 9/11."
But he added: "The average American should continue to be alert and vigilant and cautious but certainly not unduly alarmed or panicky." He spoke on MSNBC.
The intercepted intelligence foreshadowing an attack on U.S. or Western interests is evidence of one of the gravest threats to the United States in years, said several lawmakers who made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that the conversation was "very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11." Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was that chatter that prompted the Obama administration to order the closures and issue the travel warning.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s "This Week" that the threat intercepted from "high-level people in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" was about a "major attack."