Updated at 10:45am to include information from Northwestern University in Qatar. Updated at 3:45pm to include information from Doha College and Doha English Speaking School.
Several Qatar-based schools are beefing up their security measures following an alert from the US Embassy in Doha about potential attacks against teachers in the Middle East.
Citing an anonymous posting on an extremist website, the US Embassy has asked American teachers and those working in western schools to “remain vigilant” against a potential attack.
The alert comes days after Saudi Arabia said it sentenced 27 people to jail time for plotting an attack on members of the US armed forces based here and in Kuwait.
In a statement, the US embassy said that the threatening post specifically referenced the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and a neighborhood in Egypt (Maadi) that has an American school as “examples of locations with high concentrations of potential targets.”
“The Embassy is unaware of any specific, credible threat against any American or western school or individuals in Qatar. The Embassy works closely with the Government of Qatar to promote the security of U.S. citizens…
Nonetheless, all US citizens should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments.”
The statement also reiterated precautions the embassy usually advises its citizens to take, including avoiding large gatherings, identifying safe areas such as hospitals and police stations and pre-programming emergency numbers into cell phones.
In response, the embassy-sponsored American School of Doha (ASD) told community members that it is taking steps to enhance security on campus and in ASD faculty housing, and asked parents to prominently display their IDs while on campus.
In statement to Doha News, a school spokesperson said:
“ASD does not publish its security protocols however we have strengthened our security posture in response to the information released by the US Embassy.”
Doha College, meanwhile, said in a letter to parents that it was increasing the number of guards at its campus and taking other unspecified measures. The school added that it does not perceive itself to be in danger and reiterated the US embassy’s statement that there has been no specific threat to Qatar or its residents.
New security measures are also planned at the Doha English Speaking School (DESS), which told parents that it will equip its security guards with metal detectors. They will also ask to search bags on occasion and may deny guests entry to the school in “exceptional circumstances.”
“None of this is intended to be intrusive – we just want to put safety first and foremost, especially for the children,” DESS business manager Neil Macfarlane wrote in a letter to parents.
In Education City, the dean of Northwestern University in Qatar (NUQ) sent an email to students and faculty this morning saying it takes the warning from the US embassy “seriously.”
“No credible threat has been identified, but there is cause for vigilance for all of us here, regardless of our nationality or country of origin,” dean Everette Dennis wrote.
In response to the warning, a meeting has been scheduled this afternoon between US deans in Education City and the American embassy to review security conditions on campus as well as in residences for student, staff and faculty.
The school advised individuals to remain aware of their surroundings, especially when they are outside Education City or their homes. Additionally, NUQ recommends students carry a cell phone with them at all times, and leave it on – something that’s already a requirement for faculty and staff.
Neither the UK or Canada have issued new alerts in the past few days about threats on its nationals. But when offering advice for citizens traveling abroad, both say that westerners are always at some risk in this part of the world.
Previously, the UK said attacks on nationals in Qatar are “unlikely,” but noted that “terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region.”
In the same vein, on Oct. 10, the US State Department issued a worldwide alert expressing concern about the threat posted by ISIL, which had called on supporters to attack foreigners following the US-led military action against the group in Iraq.
Qatar played a role in that coalition by reportedly providing surveillance as other Arab nations bombed ISIL targets.
In the worldwide alert, the state department said:
“Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.”
It added that potential targets could include schools, restaurants, malls and other places where Americans gather.
However, speaking to Doha News this morning, a US Embassy spokesperson would not comment on whether the new threat was made by an ISIL-related group.