Worldwide Travel Alert Issued for Al Qaeda Threat

Mohammad Hannon/AP

AA Font size + Print

State Department issues advisories, plans to close embassies on Sunday in response to unspecified threat. By Sara Sorcher

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel alert to U.S. citizens, broadly citing potential terrorist attacks in August in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly in the Arabian Peninsula or originating in that region.

Embassies across the Middle East and in other Muslim countries are preparing to shut down Sunday, and while U.S. officials have yet to publicly specify the nature of the security concern, one thing is certain: The State Department is reacting with caution. And it should.

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,” the travel warning said.

The response to this still-vague threat reflects a change in the way the department reacts to security concerns since Benghazi, where an assault on the U.S. consulate killed Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel last year. (CBS reports that the planned Sunday closures are related to the discovery of an al-Qaida plot).

After that high-profile attack on the anniversary of Sept. 11, State promised to rejuvenate security procedures, especially for high-threat posts overseas, and the department isn’t taking chances now—not after a year-long media outcry, a flurry of hearings raising questions in Washington about State’s competence to keep its people safe, and a tough independent review detailing the failure of intelligence officials and policymakers to fully understand the threat posed by Islamist militias in Libya.

Benghazi has once again heightened interest and concern in the terrorist threat, to primarily the people who live and work overseas and the people who support them in Washington, and how to deal with it,” said retired ambassador Thomas Pickering, who chaired the Accountability Review Board study on Benghazi.

Stevens was the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. “But the fact is that people tend to get in a rut when things go well,” Pickering told National Journal. “And we found in our reexamination of Benghazi that people got comfortable with procedures that were clearly less than adequate when you look at what the threat was.”

Sunday’s closures are a “precautionary” measure, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “The department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should take these precautionary steps.” 

According to CBS, at least 17 embassies will close for the day—those in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The step is notable in the wake of the Accountability Review Board report that faulted State for failing to issue worldwide caution cables to diplomatic posts related to the 9/11 anniversary last year, among other “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels.”

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.