(Photo: Reuters/Nir Elias)
Officials have said the United States issued a global terror alert and asked 22 U.S. embassies to shut down after intercepting electronic communications among senior operatives of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who appeared to be planning attacks against U.S. and Western targets.
"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," the Department said in a statement on Friday.
"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," the statement added.
Anonymous officials spoke to CNN about the threat, saying the chatter among AQAP operatives had gone on for weeks but increased over the last few days.
"This was a lot more than the usual chatter," an official told The New York Times.
The United States took the unusual step of shutting down embassies and issuing a global travel alert based on the interception of electronic communications of the AQAP together with a warning from Yemeni officials.
The travel alert begins Sunday and remains in place until Aug. 31.
Many embassies will remain closed on Sunday, including in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, according to Reuters. The consulates in Arbil in Iraq, Dhahran and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Dubai in United Arab Emirates will also be shut.
The move coincides with reports about the appointment of AQAP head Nasser al-Wahishi as the overall general manager of the al Qaeda by the terror network's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation, which offers research and analysis to the United States armed forces, told CNN that the reports linking AQAP head to Osama bin Laden's successor al-Zawahiri could have led the U.S. to take a cautious but necessary approach by closing the embassies.
Al-Zawahiri's speech also appeared on jihadist forums Tuesday in which he called for attacks on American interests to avenge U.S. military actions in the Muslim world and drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
"A decision to close this many embassies and issue a global travel warning for a month suggests the threat is real, advanced and imminent but the intelligence is incomplete on where," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA case officer, was quoted as saying.
Some are saying the terror network might be aiming to attack Westerns interests generally.
"The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an interview with ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday. "There is a significant threat stream and we're reacting to it."
Britain has also announced that it's embassy in Yemen will be shut on Sunday and Monday. "We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid," Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement.