US State Department issues global travel alert

The United States issued a global travel alert to US citizens Friday, warning of the potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, carried out by operatives of Al Qaeda and their associates.

A bulletin to travelers and expatriates, issued by the State Department, came less than a day after the department announced that it was closing US diplomatic missions in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere through the weekend because of an unspecified terrorism threat.

"The Department of State alerts US 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," read the bulletin, by the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.
"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 bulletin did not advise against travel to any particular country, but it warned US citizens to be particularly mindful of their surroundings, especially in tourist areas, and recommended that they register their travel plans with the State Department.

"Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests," the bulletin said. "US citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services."

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier Friday that the warning was linked to an Al Qaeda threat focused on the Middle East and Central Asia.

Officials gave few details about what prompted the move to close an unusually large number of US missions but said there was "credible" information that a Qaida regional affiliate might be plotting an attack sometime in the coming days.

An official said that the State Department was planning to have nearly all US diplomatic facilities in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia closed through the weekend, including missions in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In much of the Muslim world, diplomatic facilities are generally closed Friday and Saturday, but open Sunday.

A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters Thursday that the decision was taken "out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations."

To date, the only Al Qaeda affiliate that has shown both a desire and an ability to attack US facilities overseas is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group based in Yemen.