US, Britain keep embassies closed

US, Britain keep embassies closed

US, Britain keep embassies closed

A Yemeni soldier inspects a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the US embassy in the capital of Sanaa. AP photo

The United States and Britain extended embassy closures by a week in the Middle East and Africa as a precaution on Aug. 4 after an al-Qaeda threat that U.S. lawmakers said was the most serious in years.

The State Department said 19 U.S. embassies and consulates would be closed through Aug. 10 “out of an abundance of caution” and that a number of them would have been closed anyway for most of the week due to the Eid celebration at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Britain said Aug.5 its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the end Eid later this week. “Due to continuing security concerns, the British embassy will remain closed until the end of Eid,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The United States initially closed 21 U.S. diplomatic posts for the day on Aug. 4. Some of those will reopen on Aug. 12, including Kabul, Baghdad and Algiers. Four new diplomatic posts - in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius - were added to the closure list for the week.

Last week, the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

‘An NSA surveillance program helped us’

“There is an awful lot of chatter out there,” U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He said the “chatter” - communications among terrorism suspects about the planning of a possible attack - was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”

A National Security Agency surveillance program that electronically collects communications on cellphones and emails had helped gather intelligence about this threat, Chambliss said. It was one of the NSA surveillance programs revealed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to media outlets. Those programs “allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter,” Chambliss said. “If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.”

 “This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” Chambliss said.

U.S. military forces in the Middle East region have been on a higher state of alert for the past several days because of the threat, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The threat also has prompted some European countries to close their embassies in Yemen, home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemeni soldiers blocked roads around the U.S. and British embassies in Sanaa, while troops with automatic rifles stood outside the French Embassy.

Complied from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.