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State Department continually evaluating intel on threats to missions

Aug. 5, 2013 at 10:36 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The State Department will evaluate intelligence it receives before deciding whether to open or close any more embassies, a department spokeswoman said Monday.

"So we're just going to keep doing the process of analyzing the information and making adjustments where we need to," spokeswoman Marie Harf said during a regular media briefing. "But overall, what we are doing is taking precautionary steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our people and our facilities and visitors to those facilities overseas."

While repeatedly saying she wouldn't characterize information received as specific or non-specific, Harf said, "we continue to refine our assessment of the threat."

Meanwhile, sources told CNN U.S. special forces overseas were on alert to launch pre-emptive strikes against potential al-Qaida targets.

Nineteen U.S. diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and North Africa will stay closed all week "out of an abundance of caution," the State Department said Sunday.

On Friday, the department issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens worldwide.

The move stems from ongoing fears of an imminent terrorist attack and not because Washington has any new intelligence about a suspected plot or plots, the department said.

"Given that a number of our embassies and consulates were going to be closed in accordance with local custom and practice for the bulk of the week for the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan, and out of an abundance of caution, we've decided to extend the closure of several embassies and consulates including a small number of additional posts," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday.

The Eid celebration is an important religious holiday celebrated Sunday by Muslims worldwide, marking the end of Ramadan.

Keeping 19 embassies and consulates shuttered through Saturday "is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities," Psaki said.

Nine of the 21 posts closed Sunday, including embassies in Kabul and Baghdad, reopened Monday, she said. The government added seven outposts to the closure list through Saturday.

The State Department statement can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Diplomatic-Outposts.

France, Germany, Holland and Britain also closed their embassies during the weekend, but Harf said she didn't have details about the closures or their extent.

"We'll continue to cooperate very closely with our allies and partners on this issue," she said. "We have very close counter-terrorism cooperation with countries in the region, the Middle East and North Africa, but also throughout the world. And we'll continue to share information as necessary."

Harf also declined to "get into specifics" about what actions may be taken or possible targets.

"I will say that we said this weekend when we put out the travel alert that this threat emanates from the Arabian Peninsula. Clearly, AQAP [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] is the most active terrorist organization there and has been the most operationally active affiliate of al-Qaida core," she said. "But beyond that, I'm not going to get into the details of the intelligence about who might be behind this threat."

The situation remains fluid, she said, adding, "Our preference, I should say here, is for embassies and consulates to be open. Clearly, we operate around the world in places like this because we have a mission there, but we have to balance the mission need versus the security situation on the ground, and we'll continue making those decisions going forward."

The location or the target of a current potential attack is "unspecified, but the intent seems clear," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey told ABC's "This Week" Sunday: "The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S., interests."

"The assumption is that it's probably most likely to happen in the Middle East," House Intelligence Committee member Peter King, R-N.Y., said on the same program.

"But there's no guarantee of that at all," said King, who is also on the Homeland Security Committee. "It could basically be in Europe, it could be in the United States, it could be a series of combined attacks. ... So we have to be ready for everything. And that's what this is about."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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