The ongoing threat of an al Qaeda attack remains a major concern – this according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney who briefed reporters on Monday. “We believe that this threat is significant and we are taking it seriously,” he said in response to the administration’s decision to close diplomatic facilities in much of the Muslim and Arab world over the weekend.
The threat, he said, is “emanating from and may be directed towards the Arabian Peninsula” but “could potentially be beyond that or elsewhere.”
Carney didn’t disclose any more specifics about the intelligence behind the warnings.
He also said “our information suggests that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
Asked whether the intelligence information about the threat of an attack was related to a specific date, such as President Barack Obama’s birthday, which was Sunday, or a particular time period, such as Ramadan, Carney said, “I cannot shed light on what has generated this particular threat. We simply act on the information we have.”
In his comments, Carney struck a somewhat different tone than Obama did in his speech at the National Defense University last May in which he said, “Groups like AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.”
Carney said Monday, “As al Qaeda core has been diminished through the efforts of the United States and our allies, affiliate organizations, including in particular al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have strengthened.”
He also told reporters, “The president has been clear that the threat from al Qaeda very much remains…. Nobody should be under any illusion that that threat still exists.”
According to sources familiar with the intelligence that led to the post closures, in a communication between two al Qaeda leaders, the number one figure of al Qaeda in Pakistan and the top al Qaeda leader in Yemen agreed that they "wanted to do something big" timed to "the day of Awesome," which was Sunday.
A third al Qaeda leader, also in Yemen, expressed the desire to blow himself up in an attack, something he had not been allowed to do in the past.
The communications had little to do with the method of an attack or a specific target. However, the most likely country of attack was thought to be Yemen.
Asked whether the al Qaeda threat might illustrate the need for the National Security Agency’s surveillance program which has become hotly debated since the revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Carney replied, “I’m not going to blend those two stories or those two issues together.”
Prior to the Carney briefing, a State Department spokeswoman told reporters that U.S. analysts continue to assess the information about a possible al Qaeda attack. Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf repeatedly stressed during her briefing Monday that many of the U.S. diplomatic facilities would have been closed anyway this week because of the Moslem holiday of Eid.
But about one-third the U.S. diplomatic posts that were temporarily closed over the weekend due to a "serious threat" of al Qaeda attack reopened on Monday, hours after officials extended closures at 15 others through Saturday and shut four more.
However, U.S. posts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mauretania, Bangladesh, and Algeria reopened on Monday.
"There’s been an awful lot of chatter out there,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. He added that the chatter is “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”
“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he added.