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US withdraws staff from consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, over terror threat

 

The State Department has evacuated non-emergency U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, and has warned Americans to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan due to 'specific threats' to that mission, a U.S. official said.

In the travel warning issued Thursday night, the State Department advised Americans to defer all nonessential travel to Pakistan. 

“The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan,” the statement read. “The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit.”

The personnel drawdown at the Lahore consulate was a precautionary measure and wasn't related to the recent closures of numerous U.S. diplomatic missions in the Muslim world, two U.S. officials told the Associated Press.

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The consulate in Lahore was scheduled to be closed for the Eid holiday from Thursday through Sunday and no reopening had been scheduled, one of the officials said.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the order by name and requested anonymity.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Meghan Gregonis, said, "We received information regarding a threat to the consulate. As a precautionary measure, we are undertaking a drawdown of all except emergency personnel."

The U.S. is evacuating staff to Islamabad, said Gregonis. Emergency personnel will stay in Lahore and the embassy officials do not know when the consulate in Lahore will reopen. The U.S. will continue to evaluate the threat reporting.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Meghan Gregonis, said, "We received information regarding a threat to the consulate. As a precautionary measure, we are undertaking a drawdown of all except emergency personnel."

Earlier this week, 19 U.S. diplomatic outposts in 16 countries in the Middle East and Africa were closed to the public through Saturday and nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

Sources tell Fox News that Al Qaeda could be planning attacks on other foreign offices, infrastructure, and organizations in Yemen in addition to the American embassy.

On Monday, a U.S. intelligence source told Fox News that the terror threat that led to the embassy and consulate closures resulted from intercepted communications between the head of Al Qaeda and the leader of its Arabian Peninsula affiliate.

The source said the communications were intercepted between Ayman al-Zawahiri -- who is Usama bin Laden's successor -- and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Asked about the claim earlier this week, officials with the CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence would not confirm the details of any such intercepted communications.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been widely considered Al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate for several years.

In Pakistan, the bloody insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in recent years has killed over 40,000 civilians and security personnel, and is also believed to be home base for al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Most of the militant attacks have been in the northwest and southwest along the border with Afghanistan.

Gunmen killed six people and wounded 15 others Friday in an attack on a former lawmaker outside a mosque in Quetta, the capital of southwest Baluchistan province, said police officer Bashir Ahmad Barohi. The lawmaker escaped unharmed. A day earlier, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 30 people at a police funeral in Quetta.

Pakistan's major cities, including Lahore, have also experienced periodic attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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