Rep. Peter King, former Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told radio interviewer that the threat of a terrorist act which caused the closing of 21 American embassies across the Middle East was “very specific” as to when it would occur and that the threat was immediate.
“We’re not certain exactly where something might happen but it’s very specific as to when and it’s also very specific as to the fact that it is going to happen, so we have to be on alert everywhere,” the New York Republican told WINS-AM.
The travel alert was the first of its kind since an announcement preceding the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It came as Washington prepared to close its embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world this Sunday over security concerns.
U.S. officials have not offered many details on the nature of the threat, but apparently are taking it seriously.
A White House official said Friday night President Obama was being updated on “a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”
“There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told ABC News in an interview to be aired Sunday that the threat was “more specific” than previous ones and the “intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests.”
King, a former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told WINS-AM that Americans abroad should register with the U.S. consulates in the countries they are visiting.
“I would let the American embassy know where you are. Basically check in and where you are and how long you plan to stay there and what your itinerary is,” King said.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the alert indicates the U.S. government must have some “pretty good information” about a possible threat.
While the threat isn’t tied to a specific place, American intelligence is looking at the Arabian Penninsula and a threat from Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Penninsula (AQAP). The group attacked our embassy in Yemen in 2008 in a highly sophisticated assault that included suicide bombers and heavy weapons. The Yemeni security forces assisted US embassy personnel in fighting off the attack. No diplomats were killed although an American woman standing in line for a visa lost her life.
Margaret Coker, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that AQAP is al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate:
Al Qaeda-based Yemeni cells struck their first blow against American interests well before their merger with the Saudi branch. In October 2000, terrorists struck the U.S.S. Cole which was at port in the Yemeni port of Aden, the gateway for one of the most vital waterways carrying oil shipments from the Middle East to European markets. 17 U.S. sailors were killed in that attack.
Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric who for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks preached jihad against Western interests, was also of Yemeni heritage. After returning to Yemen in 2005, he helped recruit Muslims living in the West to attack U.S. and other interests, according to U.S. officials. Mr. Awlaki was killed by a U.S. missile strike in a remote corner of Yemen in September 2011.
U.S. officials accused AQAP leaders and Mr. Awlaki in particular of recruiting two men to carry out attacks in U.S. soil: U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hassan who is currently on trial for opening fire and killing 13 people and wounding 29 others at Fort Hood in Texas; and Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, who attempted to blow up a passenger plane as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
The White House has authorized the first use of missile strikes against terrorist suspects in Yemen in 2002, but the vast majority of U.S. attacks there have come since the merger of the two branches of al Qaeda. In 2012, the U.S. launched more than 40 drone and missile strikes against alleged AQAP targets in Yemen. So far this year, there have been approximately one dozen, according to Yemeni officials, who work closely with their U.S. counterparts to support these missions.
Our drone war in Yemen has been strongly supported by the Yemeni government, who are grateful for the help in trying to take their country back from the terrorists. But its’ been a long slog in driving al-Qaeda from some of their strongholds where they have apparently been able to plan an attack on our interests.
It will be a tense few days in the Arabian Penninsula.