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19 US posts to remain closed this week, as lawmakers say terror threat 'specific’ and ‘serious'

 

The State Department has announced that it will keep 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa closed throughout the week “out of an abundance of caution” in the wake of terror threats that shut them down.

Posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antanarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis have been instructed to close for normal operations from Monday through Saturday, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The State Department also said some of those embassies were already going to be closed in accordance with local customs marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Those authorized to reopen Monday are in Dhaka, Algiers, Nouakchott, Kabul, Herat, Mazar el Sharif, Baghdad, Basrah and Erbil.

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Capitol Hill lawmakers, including top-ranking members of intelligence committees, on Sunday described the terror threat that closed 22 U.S. embassies and consulates across the Muslim region as the most serious one since before the 9/11 attacks and related to a specific act or plot.

Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that U.S. intelligence agents detected a “very specific” threat and suggested they have known about it for at least several weeks.

He was among several congressional lawmakers Sunday who said the threat was gleaned from so-called “chatter” from phone lines, computer outlets, websites and other communication outlets.

Rooney also said the information is not what intelligence committee members “see on our regular briefings.”

The Obama administration’s decision Friday to close the U.S. outposts Sunday came the same day as the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert.

Rooney suggested Sunday the travel warning will not be lifted soon.

“If I had plans to travel to certain places in the Middle East, I would probably go ahead and cancel them,” he said.

Rooney's comments followed Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press" that the threats are "very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11."

He also described the threats as “the most serious … I've seen in a number of years.”

Sources confirmed with Fox News the chatter was picked up over the past two weeks and exceeds anything in the past decade. They also said the extraordinary volume of chatter was preceded by months of “absolute quietness.”

The sources said the chatter included Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri demanding that key leaders of the terror network in the Arabian Peninsula step up their activities in the wake of recent killings of top terrorists.

A Mideast diplomat said al-Zawahiri’s “pressuring” of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to launch new terrorist attacks on American and other Western targets is “unprecedented.”

The sources also said the U.S. outpost closings and the travel alert were prompted in part by a series of recent Al Qaeda-led prison breaks that have freed hundreds of operatives over the last month, including one this weekend in Aleppo, Syria. Other recent breaks have been orchestrated in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan and Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan.

Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said the intercepted threats came from "high-level people” in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

He told ABC’s “This Week” the information was about a “major attack."

Yemen is home to Al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate, blamed for several notable terrorist plots on the United States. They include the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and the explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

New York Republican Rep. Pete King, who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, said the threat included dates but not locations of possible attacks.

"The threat was specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also that certain dates were given," he said on ABC.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a House Intelligence Committee member, said the "breadth" of the closures suggests U.S. authorities are concerned about a potential repeat of last year's riots and attacks at multiple embassies, including the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

In addition, Interpol, the French-based international policy agency, has issued a global security alert in connection with suspected Al Qaeda involvement in the recent prison escapes.

Schiff also said the breaks add to the concerns about an attack and noted the approaching end of Ramadan.

"So you have a lot things coming together,” he said. “But all of that would not be enough without having some particularly specific information," he said.

The administration’s announcements Friday said the Al Qaeda network might target either U.S. government or private American interests.

The intelligence intercepts also prompted Britain, Germany and France to close their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. British authorities said some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn "due to security concerns."

Canada also announced it was closing its embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.