U.S. says all but 2 diplomatic posts will reopen today

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 9, 2013 

— The State Department announced late Friday that 18 of the 19 diplomatic posts it had ordered closed this week as a result of an unspecified terrorist threat will reopen Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen will remain closed, however, as will the American consulate in Lahore, Pakistan. The Lahore facility hadn’t been among the original spate of closings, but was shuttered Friday because of a threat officials said was unrelated to the information that sparked the original closures.

"We will continue to evaluate the threats to Sanaa and Lahore and make subsequent decisions about the reopening of those facilities based on that information," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We will also continue to evaluate information about these and all of our posts and to take appropriate steps to best protect the safety of our personnel, American citizens traveling overseas and visitors to our facilities."

The initial decision to shutter U.S. diplomatic facilities affected embassies and consulates in 21 countries that stretched from Mauritania in west Africa to Bangladesh in south Asia for a single day, last Sunday. Facilities in five of those countries – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iraq and Mauritania – reopened the next day. The others remained closed throughout the week in a sweeping action that analysts had a difficult time explaining.

While some of the countries where the closures took effect seemed obvious choices – Libya, for example, where an al Qaida-linked attack killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans last September – others hadn’t been known to have suffered recent terrorist incidents.

Four of the countries – Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar and Mauritius – were notable primarily because Muslims make up only a small part of their populations.

“It’s not completely random, but most people are, like, ‘Whaaat?’ ” said Aaron Zelin, who researches militants for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and blogs about them at Jihadology.net.

The extent of the closings opened the administration to criticism that it had miscalculated when it had referred to al Qaida as “decimated.” President Barack Obama, however, defended his administration’s record at a news conference Friday before the reopenings were announced and said there’d been no misjudgments.

“What I said . . . back in May . . . is that core al Qaida is on its heels, has been decimated,” he said. “ But what I also said was that al Qaida and other extremists have metastasized into regional groups that can pose significant dangers. . . . They have the capacity, potentially, to go after our businesses. They have the capacity to be destabilizing and disruptive in countries where the security apparatus is weak. And that’s exactly what we are seeing right now.”

Obama administration officials have offered no public explanation for what triggered the closures. A Yemeni official who’d been briefed, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, told McClatchy that the alert was the result of an intercepted communication between al Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri and his No. 2, Nasir al Wuhayshi, who’s also the head of Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. That communication contained what the Yemeni official, who wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists, said was a "clear order" for an attack.

There were no reported incidents throughout the week in any of the countries where the facilities were closed.

The exception was Yemen, where the United States launched eight drone strikes over the past 13 days. There were no attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, however, and the Yemeni government reacted angrily Tuesday when the U.S. evacuated its nonessential personnel to Germany.

In another oddity about the closures, no facilities in Pakistan were among those originally closed, and the embassy and consulates in that country remained open throughout the week – until Friday, when the consulate in Lahore was ordered closed.

The countries where U.S. posts will operate normally beginning Sunday are Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Libya, Djibouti, Sudan, Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius.

Email: mseibel@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @markseibel

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