Interpol issued yesterday a global security alert after jailbreaks it linked to al-Qaeda freed hundreds of militants, as the United States and other Western powers planned to close certain embassies temporarily over terror threats.
Washington ordered its embassies across the Islamic world temporarily closed, while Germany, Britain and France were to shut their missions in Yemen for at least two days.
Interpol 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 "led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals" in the past month alone and issued a security alert.
It has also asked its 190 member countries to help "determine whether any of these recent events are co-ordinated and linked" and immediately to convey any intelligence that could help prevent another attack.
The Interpol alert comes the day after Washington's worldwide travel warning, citing unspecified plans by al-Qaeda to strike US interests in the Middle East or North Africa in August. Interpol noted that August was the anniversary of attacks in India, Russia and Indonesia.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US 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 in an interview for the programme This Week.
As a precaution, the State Department said it was closing at least 22 US embassies or consulates today, a work day in many Islamic countries.
Germany and Britain later announced that their embassies in Yemen would be closed today and tomorrow, while France said its mission there would stay shut for "several days".
US President Barack Obama ordered his national-security team to "take all appropriate steps to protect the American people", a White House official said. He had been "updated on a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian peninsula".
In its worldwide travel alert, the US State Department said: "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."
Unnamed US officials told The New York Times that the warning was prompted after US officials intercepted electronic communications among senior al-Qaeda operatives who discussed strikes on US interests in the Muslim world.