WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the weekend closures of nearly two dozen U.S. embassies and consulates in the Muslim world was “the most serious threat” he’d seen in recent years.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said today “the chatter” intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies led the Obama administration to order the weekend closure of 21 diplomatic facilities and to issue a global travel warning to Americans. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the intelligence was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”
“The one thing that we can talk about is the fact that there’s been an awful lot of chatter out there,” Chambliss said. “We didn’t take heed on 9/11 in a way that we should, but here I think it’s very important that we do take the right kind of planning.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told ABC’s “This Week” today that the threat intercepted from “high-level people in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula” was about a “major attack.”
The Maryland Democrat didn’t provide details of the threat, other than to say it came from “people at a high level.”
Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican who chairs a House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence, also spoke to ABC and said that the threat included dates but not locations of possible attacks.
“The threat was specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also that certain dates were given,” King said. He added that while authorities assume any attack is likely to come in the Middle East, warnings to state and local authorities in the U.S. were warranted because of the uncertainty.
“This is a wake-up call,” King said. “Al-Qaida is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11 because it has mutated and it’s spread in dramatically different locations. And al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is the most deadly of all the al-Qaida affiliates.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who sits on the House intelligence committee, said the “breadth” of the closures suggests U.S. authorities are concerned about a potential repeat of last year’s riots and attacks at multiple embassies, including the deadly assault at the mission in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. A recent series of prison breaks in the region is also worrisome, he said on an appearance today on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“There has to be a lot of concern as well with the recent prison breaks in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere where a lot of al-Qaida figures were released,” Schiff said. “So you have a lot things coming together, including the significance of the end of Ramadan, that would raise our concern. But all of that would not be enough without having some, you know, particularly specific information.”
On Friday the Obama administration announced the weekend closures and the State Department announced a global travel alert.
The warning urged American travelers to take extra precautions overseas, citing potential dangers involved with public transportation systems and other prime sites for tourists. It noted that previous terrorist attacks have centered on subway and rail networks as well as airplanes and boats. It suggested travelers sign up for State Department alerts and register with U.S. consulates in the countries they visit. The alert expires on Aug. 31.
The statement said that al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests.
Interpol issued a global security alert Saturday related to the recent prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert calls on Interpol’s 190 member countries to help determine whether these events are coordinated or linked, the organization said in a statement.
Interpol said it issues such alerts fairly regularly, the last one 10 days ago following jailbreaks from Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison and the Taji prison near Baghdad.
The intelligence intercepts have also prompted Britain, Germany and France to close their embassies in Yemen today and Monday. British authorities said some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn “due to security concerns.”
Canada also announced it was closing its embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, today, tightening security amid a widespread terrorism and travel alert triggered by the U.S. warnings.