A terrorism threat has prompted the United States to close dozens of American diplomatic missions in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere through the weekend, US officials said on Thursday.
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 an al-Qaida regional affiliate might be plotting an attack sometime in the coming days.
"It's not often that we close a bunch of embassies at once," said one official, adding that the threat was being taken particularly seriously by American intelligence agencies. In much of the Muslim world, iplomatic facilities are generally closed on Friday and Saturday, but open on Sunday.
A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters on 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."
The State Department did not announce on Thursday which terror group might be plotting an attack, but US officials indicated that the threat originated from one of al-Qaida's regional affiliates.
To date, the only al-Qaida affiliate that has shown both a desire and an ability to attack US facilities overseas is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a group based in Yemen.
At a White House meeting on Thursday between President Barack Obama and Yemen's president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, counterterrorism operations in Yemen were among the main topics of discussion, US and Yemeni officials said.
US drones have carried out three separate strikes in Yemen over the past week, according to Long War Journal, a website that tracks drone strikes. There have been 15 US drone strikes in Yemen this year, according to the site.
The closings come toward the end of the Ramadan holidays and the approaching one-year anniversary of the terror attack on Sept 11, 2012, on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J Christopher Stevens.
"This seems to be a late-Ramadan threat," one senior US diplomat said. "We don't have information on the specific details."