Intercepted communiques between Al-Qaeda leadership and its affiliated branch in Yemen has led to credible evidence of plots against American and Western targets on the Arabian Peninsula, according to US officials.
Last week the Obama administration made the unusual move to close about two dozen diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East and Africa, as well as issued a worldwide travel alert. Those actions were followed by similar moves by the UK’s Foreign Office, which advised on Friday British nationals to leave Yemen if possible.
It is now thought that an uptick in chatter from the head of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, speaking from Pakistan with Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al-Qaeda’s Yemen group, revealed an impending attack, as early as this past weekend.
According to the New York Times, the conversation between the two leaders was considered “highly unusual” and immediately led the State Department and the White House to act, prompting members of Congress to indicate last week that a credible terrorist plot was already underway.
“This was significant because it was the big guys talking, and talking about very specific timing for an attack or attacks,” said one American official who spoke with the New York Times.
The State Department on Sunday announced that it was closing an additional 19 diplomatic offices through next Saturday due to continued intelligence suggesting an imminent threat, but not due to additional information which set off increased precautions since last week.
The latest closures were “merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees and visitors to our facilities,” according to the State Department.
Meanwhile, a senior Obama administration official had indicated to CNN on Monday that Special Forces units overseas had been on alert for the past several days for a potential attack on Al-Qaeda targets. Those units had been placed on heightened alert by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as of last week, as US intelligence continued to examine the details of the credible threat.
Speculation on potential US targets seemed high over the weekend, with an anonymous Western diplomat speaking to the New York Times saying the American mission in Islamabad, Pakistan had received unconfirmed reports that militants had assembled in the Margalla Hills overlooking the city.
“The assumption is that it’s probably most likely to happen in the Middle East,” Representative Peter T. King said on Sunday on the ABC News program “This Week.”
“But there’s no guarantee of that at all. It could basically be in Europe, it could be in the United States, it could be a series of combined attacks,” added King, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.