WASHINGTON – On August 7, 1990, American troops set foot on Saudi Arabian sands
for the first time. Precisely eight years later, hundreds of Americans were
killed in the bombing of embassies across East Africa. And on Wednesday –
exactly 15 years since those bombings, and the last day of Ramadan this calendar
year – the United States fears a significant attack on its assets in the Arabian
US drones continued striking Yemen on Tuesday within hours of
a new State Department warning to all citizens and nonessential government
personnel, asking them to leave the country “immediately” and characterizing the
security threat level as “extremely high.”
The United Kingdom issued a
similar warning to its citizens and evacuated its entire embassy.
modest American presence on the ground of roughly 130 US employees is abiding by
the evacuation call.
The diplomatic corps has been airlifted out of the
country and was scheduled to arrive in Germany late Tuesday night.
new warning comes after the US shut 19 of its embassies across the Middle East
last week and issued a worldwide travel warning prompted by intelligence of an
impending al-Qaida attack.
Yemen reacted negatively to the US pullout on
Tuesday, stating that “the evacuation of [US] Embassy staff serves the interests
of the extremists and undermines the exceptional cooperation between Yemen and
the international alliance against terrorism.”
spokeswoman Jen Psaki refuted that characterization. Intelligence on an
“immediate, specific threat” justified the threat assessment, Psaki said, though
adding that the US had no plans to evacuate all private American citizens from
the poor Arab nation.
“It’s inaccurate to call it an evacuation. This is
a reduction in staff,” said Psaki, who reminded journalists that there has been
a travel warning in place for Yemen for “about 11 years.”
agencies were tipped off to a possible plot after intercepting communication
between al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and Ayman al- Zawahiri,
Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of the terrorist organization. Officials
have said the two parties boisterously discussed the pending attack with
specific dates, though not specific targets.
But US intelligence
officials said in June that the leaking of classified surveillance programs by
Edward Snowden had led al-Qaida to reevaluate its communications protocol – and
that AQAP was the first group to alter its behavior.
The discrepancy has
led some analysts to question al- Qaida’s motives in this recent threat
“Sunday could have been flagged to reveal our security
weaknesses,” says Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst on AQAP at the American
Enterprise Institute. “There’s a possibility that this could have been an
intentional leak by AQAP or Zawahiri in order to see a shift in American
In the latest strike on Tuesday, a US drone fired five
missiles at a car traveling in the central Maarib province, killing all four of
Yemen’s state news agency said the four men were al-Qaida
terrorists. American and British officials have frequently been the targets of
attempted attacks in Yemen, a country that receives infrequent attention from
Western media outlets.
The US embassy in Sanaa was bombed in 2008,
Americans were attacked on Christmas Day in 2009 and the British ambassador to
Yemen was nearly killed in 2010.
In September of last year, within days
of an attack on a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, protestors easily overran the
the American Embassy in Yemen, poorly protected and perched toward the bottom of
AQAP has assassinated over 100 Yemeni officials and tribal
leaders over the course of several months, slowly rolling back the efforts to
clear the terrorist organization out of the country’s southern
“If you’re killing all the security and intelligence officials
out in these provinces, you’re blinding your opposition, and so we’re less aware
of what’s happening there than we were before,” says Daniel Green, a fellow at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “We clear areas, but we’re not
very good at holding them.”
The threat level increase comes days after a
series of major prison breaks in Libya, Pakistan and Iraq, including an opening
of Abu Ghraib apparently coordinated by al- Qaida.
“AQAP continues to
attack us where we’re not looking, when we’re not looking,” Zimmerman said.