White House holds high-level meeting amid terror fears
Agence France-Presse in Washington
The White House held a high-level meeting Saturday on terror concerns that prompted Washington to issue a worldwide travel alert and order its embassies across the Islamic world closed temporarily.
The meeting was held as Interpol issued a global security alert after hundreds of militants were set free in jailbreaks linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network, and as suicide bombers killed nine near the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
Those attending the meeting, chaired by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, included Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Also present were the heads of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, as well as the US ambassador to the United Nations, the White House said.
President Barack Obama did not attend but was briefed afterwards.
“Early this week, the President instructed his National Security team to take all appropriate steps to protect the American people in light of a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” the statement said.
In light of the threat, Washington late last week ordered its embassies across the Islamic world shuttered Sunday. Germany, Britain and France following suit and were to close their missions in Yemen for at least two days.
Canada, meanwhile, said its mission in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka would also be shut Sunday.
On Friday, Washington issued a worldwide travel warning, citing unspecified plans by Al-Qaeda to strike US interests in the Middle East or North Africa in August.
Interpol, in issuing its alert, said it suspected Al-Qaeda was involved in recent jailbreaks across nine countries, including Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
The global police agency said the jailbreaks had “led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals” in the past month alone.
Interpol, based in the French city of Lyon, noted that August is the anniversary of attacks in India, Russia and Indonesia.
This week also marks the 15th anniversary of the US embassy bombings in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which killed more than 200 and injured thousands.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News that the threats were directed at Western interests, and were “more specific” than previous threats.
While an exact target was unknown, “the intent seems clear. The intent is to attack Western, not just US, interests,” Dempsey said.
As a precaution, the State Department said it was closing at least 22 US embassies or consulates on Sunday, a work day in many Islamic countries.
Germany and Britain later announced that their embassies in Yemen would be closed Sunday and Monday, while France said its mission there would stay shut for “several days.”
Canada said its Dhaka mission was shutting as a security precaution and it would “continue to monitor events closely and take appropriate security measures.”
“Current information suggests that Al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations 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 State Department said in the worldwide travel alert for US citizens.
The attacks were possible “particularly in the Middle East and north Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”
The alert warned of “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”
Hours after the US alert was issued, an audio recording was posted on militant Islamist forums in which Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri accused the United States of “plotting” with Egypt’s military, secularists and Christians to overthrow Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
In his first public comment on the July 3 military coup, the Egyptian-born Zawahiri said: “Crusaders and secularists and the Americanized army have converged ... with Gulf money and American plotting to topple Mohamed Morsi’s government.”
Zawahiri, who belonged to the militant Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, criticized Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement for going soft on applying strict Islamic law.
The United States has been especially cautious about security since an attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 last year.
The assault, blamed on Islamist militants, killed four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens.