WASHINGTON: The United States issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The State Department travel alert was based on the same intelligence information that prompted it to close 21 U.S. embassies or consulates this Sunday, chiefly those in the Muslim world, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula," its statement said.
"Current information suggests that al Qaeda 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," it added, saying the travel alert would expire on Aug. 31.
Among the most prominent of al Qaeda's affiliates is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group whose attempted attacks included the Christmas Day 2009 attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open this Sunday - chiefly those in the Muslim world - would be closed that day because of security concerns.
On Friday, it said the embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.
While the U.S. State Department routinely releases what it describes as a "Worldwide Caution" warning U.S. citizens of the general potential danger of attacks around the world, Friday's travel alert was based on more specific information, said one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The previous "Worldwide Caution" was issued on Feb. 19.
U.S. officials declined to provide additional details about the intelligence that led them to close the diplomatic missions and to issue the worldwide travel alert.
However, a second U.S. official said there was no information on a specific target, which was the reason for the broad alert.
The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, said on Friday that he and several other lawmakers met two days ago with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the threat.
"It's my understanding that it is al Qaeda-linked ... and the threat emanates in the Middle East and in Central Asia," Representative Royce said CNN's "New Day" program.