Middle East US embassies to close Sunday over security fears as State Dept. issues travel alert

WASHINGTON — The United States said it would close 21 embassies around the world on Sunday and issued a travel alert over security concerns linked to Al Qaeda.

The State Department listed the embassies on Friday, which range from Algeria to Yemen and beyond. 

Spokeswoman Marie Harf on Thursday called the step "precautionary." A travel alert issued Friday said department information suggests there might be an increased risk of attacks by Al Qaeda or affiliates for the month of August.

"The Department of State has instructed certain US embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, Aug. 4," Harf told reporters. 

The decision was taken "out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations," she said.

According to CBS News, US intelligence has picked up on "signs of an Al Qaeda plot against American diplomatic posts in the Middle East and other Muslim countries." 

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Harf said that the embassies would be closed specifically on Sunday, with an assessment afterwards on whether to reopen them.

"It is possible we may have additional days of closing as well," she said.

Harf declined to specify from which part of the world the threat was detected.

Shortly after making the announcement, the State Department issued a travel alert that extends to Aug. 31.

"Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure," the alert says.

"U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling."

Government offices are nearly always closed in the United States on Sunday, which is the start of the work week in many Muslim-majority countries.

This Sunday is US President Barack Obama's 52nd birthday, and the day when new Iranian president Hassan Rowhani will be inaugurated. 

The US has been especially cautious about security since an attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 last year.

The attack killed four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, and led critics in Congress to accuse the State Department of insufficient security.


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