London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The US State Department has announced that twenty-three US embassies and consulates across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia are to close Sunday, citing intelligence regarding possible attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Marie Harf, a deputy spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters that “the Department of State has instructed certain US embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th.” She added that “it is possible we may have additional days of closing as well.”
The decision will affect embassies in the capitals of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Djibouti. Consulates at Basrah, Erbil, Dhahran, Dubai and Jeddah have likewise been instructed to suspend their operations. These US missions would usually be open for business on Sunday, which is the first day of the working week in most Muslim-majority countries.
The US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, which is normally closed on Sundays, announced that “all Embassy facilities will be closed on Sunday, August 4,” including those that would normally be opened to the public.
The high-alert status was announced shortly before insurgents attacked the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. A suicide bomber detonated himself at roughly 10 am local time, which triggered a fire-fight that lasted at least an hour.
A worldwide travel alert was also issued for US citizens, which is not set to expire until August 31. The global travel alert warns of a “continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world,” including areas in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Central Asia.
In related news, the British embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, is also set to close Sunday and Monday as “a precautionary measure.” The foreign office and its embassy in Sana’a, which was already running with reduced staff on account of security concerns, urged British nationals to “leave [Yemen] now.”
Following the US and British decision, France and Germany announced Saturday that they would take similar action. Both diplomatic posts are to be closed on Sunday. The German embassy will also be shut on Monday.
While it is not unusual for individual embassies to close temporarily in light of local security situations, such a decision—which covers both a large area and specific countries—is rare, analysts claim.
US diplomatic missions have suffered deadly attacks in the past. Most notably, the attacks of September 12, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, led to the deaths of the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other US officials.
That attack, conducted by heavily armed militias who had fought in the Libyan civil war, came following the production and publication of an inflammatory anti-Muslim short film. The Innocence of Muslims, made by an Egyptian national, sparked violent protests throughout the Middle East—many outside US embassies—in which over 50 deaths and nearly 700 injuries occurred.