The US State Department has issued a travel alert to all US citizens planning to travel to abroad, advising them to keep vigilant and be aware of the threat of a potential terrorist attack.
The warning, which has already prompted the US government to temporarily shut a number of its embassies around the world, focuses on the threat posed by militant groups linked to al-Qaida in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the department said, without being more specific.
“The Department of State alerts US citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring or emanating from the Arabian peninsula,” read a statement issued by the department.
“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement explained.
The State Department said that the alert will remain in place for the entire month, expiring effective August 31. It said that its decision to close some embassies was taken purely out of caution and that they will remain closed beyond Sunday – a business day in Muslim countries.
The warning comes as the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan approaches – a period when fighting is traditionally put on hold – approaches.
Several high-ranking legislative officials have spoken out about the seriousness of the threat. Ed Royce, a Republican and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the committee is aware of “a series of threats”. “In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should”.
House Intelligence Committee member Dutch Rupersberger said that the committee’s most important duty is the protection of American lives and that the warning was not issued as a result of the “regular chit-chat” it normally analyses.
Although the warning is aimed specifically at US citizens, its message has been heeded by a multitude of global bodies, including the European Union, which issued a statement saying it is taking “all necessary precautions” to ensure safety within its borders.
Alerts like the one today are often issued around international events or widely observed anniversaries. One of the last notable alerts was issued by the State Department last year on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, after which the US ambassador to Libya and three others were killed as protests raged in Benghazi.
Media speculation suggests that today’s alert may be somehow connected the inauguration of the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, which will take place on Sunday.
The State Department is recommending that all US citizens planning to travel abroad register their plans with the Consular Section of the US Embassy through its travel registration website and that they enrol in the Department’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme.