In a largely unprecedented move, the United States Department of State has ordered the temporary closing of 22 consulates across the Middle East and Africa yesterday, a list they expanded today.
Initially, 22 American embassies and consulates were set to close for a day, but today this list was expanded to 26 embassies and consulates—as far north as Amman in Jordan, as far east as Muscat in Oman, as far south as Antananarivo in Madagascar, and as far west as Bamako in Mali—with 15 of the original 22 having their closings extended by a week. The U.S. government has clarified that these new closings are not because of a new threat, but rather as an extension of caution directed at the old threat.
The U.S. State Department has also warned that future attacks might take place in Europe and the U.S.
This move comes as a reaction to an undisclosed threat from al-Qaeda, which has been called the most specific and deadly threat since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
News outlets, if they have figured out the more precise nature of the threat, have not reported it to the public, under recommendation from U.S. President Barack Obama to treat the information as highly sensitive. However, it is known that a number of different factors are making an al-Qaeda attack on U.S. interests abroad a more salient scenario than it has been for many years.
According to CNN, one reason why the threat is especially salient right now is because of the rash of prison breaks perpetrated by al-Qaeda and the Taliban that have occurred in the region in the past month. Moreover, this has been an especially violent Ramadan month for much of the Middle East, including Iraq, and the holy month will be finishing its course soon. It is possible that the extended festivities of Eid al-Fitr may serve as a springboard for al-Qaeda’s plans.
To some watchers of the region, it might have seemed like al-Qaeda has become a dwindling threat to the U.S. and its allies, given that the organization’s figurehead, Osama bin Laden, was killed in 2011, and countless number 2’s in the international structure have also been taken out. However, while al-Qaeda is certainly less internationally centralized than it was 10 years ago, it has resurfaced as several deadly regional “franchises,” particularly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Obviously, since the specific threat has not been made known to the public, it is unknown whether AQIM, AQAP, or some other franchise organization is responsible for the threat.
Thus far, there has been little other than praise for Obama’s swift and cautious approach to the threat from both Republicans and Democrats, and many hawkish lawmakers are using the incident as a rationale for shoring up the extensive surveillance the National Security Agency has been using as an antiterrorism method for many years, but which has become especially controversial this summer with the Edward Snowden security breach.
By Laura Gates
Source: CNN, The Wall Street Journal