US to shutter Qatar embassy and several others on Sunday over threat

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The US Embassy in Qatar will be closed on Sunday, along with a number of other embassies across the Middle East, over concerns about an unspecified threat.

UPDATE | 9:15pm

The US State Department elaborated today that the worldwide alert it has issued is due to an al-Qaeda related threat, “particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”

It reads:

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. 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.

Here’s the full memo being circulated today. Officials added that the travel alert expires on Aug. 31.

UPDATE | 12:45pm

In an “emergency message” sent to US citizens in Qatar yesterday, the embassy advised Americans to steer clear of large gatherings next week:

You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.

Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities.

Ramadan comes to an end next week, and Eid prayers and celebrations are near, but it is unclear if the security threat has anything to do with this timing.

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The news was announced in a US State Department briefing yesterday, with spokeswoman Marie Harf saying:

The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps.

The Department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety.

Harf, who added that the embassies might be closed beyond Sunday, did not specify which countries would be affected, but a senior US official told ABC News that it extends to all international diplomatic offices that would be open on Sunday, such as in the MENA region and South Asia. 

That includes Qatar, home of the largest US military base in the region, as well as Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.

Qatar’s US Embassy announced the closure on its website and in a tweet yesterday, but did not elaborate.

It is not clear whether American citizens living in the Middle East should take any extra precautions.

According to ABC News, the order to close the offices is an unusual one:

U.S. ambassadors, not the State Department, usually determine when embassies will shut down. A senior U.S. official called today’s move a “real precedent-setting event.”

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo of protest in front of US Embassy in Qatar from last fall by Omar Chatriwala

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