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US tells Americans to leave Yemen after terrorist threat

Americans were urged to "depart immediately" from Yemen while nearly 100 U.S. government workers were flown out of the country Tuesday as the State Dept. continued to warn of increased terror threats in the region.
/ Source: Andrea Michell Reports

Americans were urged to "depart immediately" from Yemen while nearly 100 U.S. government workers were flown out of the country Tuesday as the State Dept. continued to warn of increased terror threats in the region.

A police trooper inspects a car at a checkpoint near the British embassy in Sanaa August 3, 2013. (Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Updated Aug. 6 at 4:40 p.m.

Americans were urged to “depart immediately” from Yemen while nearly 100 U.S. government workers were flown out of the country Tuesday as the State Dept. continued to warn of increased terror threats in the region, NBC News reported.

Citing a potential al Qaeda terrorist threat, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. shuttered dozens of its Middle East embassies–a number of which remain closed–and issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans Friday. The State Dept. said the attacks may be planned to take place before the end of the month (the holy month of Ramadan ends Wednesday), and information suggested it could “possibly [be] occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”

On Tuesday the State Department urged all U.S. citizens to defer any planned travel to Yemen as it warned of a “high security threat level.” It also ordered non-emergency U.S. personnel to leave the country and a reduction in emergency staff.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the reduction of staff at the U.S. embassy in Yemen was done in “response to an immediate specific threat” – not a new threat, but based on “a constant evaluation of new information” that U.S. intelligence agencies have received on the existing threat that caused the U.S. to temporarily close nearly two dozen embassies and diplomatic posts in the Middle East and North Africa last week.

The threat warning was set off after U.S. officials intercepted communication between al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri (Osama bin Laden’s successor), and the head of AQAP, the Yemen al Qaeda affiliate, Nasir al Wahisi, intelligence sources told NBC News.

Reports also said a drone strike killed several suspected al Qaeda members in Yemen on Tuesday.

“We know that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has some very dangerous, very important leaders who are tied directly to the top leadership of al Qaeda central, including a man who was formerly Osama bin Laden’s secretary. We know that there was chatter,” said Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Monday.

“But we don’t know the most important things: exactly where, exactly when. So we’ve seen a blanket response in much of the Muslim world,” he added.

The U.S. also stepped up security at drone bases and other facilities in the region. The U.K also withdrew its entire embassy staff from the capital of Yemen Tuesday.

Paski said Tuesday that no plans for a further staff reduction at the embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, are in the works, and that the State Department is not planning to evacuate Americans.

The State Department reiterated at its Monday briefing that the embassy closures were done “out of an abundance of caution” and denied any connection to recent prison breaks that freed more than 2,000 inmates in Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan.

“These prison breaks are obviously a concern for the international community writ large…but that is separate and apart, I think, from our concern about the specific threat,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Monday.

The issue of embassy security entered into the public discourse last September after four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, died during an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

“They’re obviously erring on the side of caution, closing down a lot of these missions which is very disruptive, of course, to any embassy’s ability to sort of get out and see what’s going on in the country,” said Chris Hill, former Ambassador to Iraq, Monday on Andrea Mitchell Reports.

Reporting contributed by NBC’s Courtney Kube and Catherine Chomiak