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Threat of al-Qaida Attack Keeps U.S. Diplomatic Posts Closed

August 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL:  There was new information today about the closure of American embassies and consulates in the Muslim world.

According to a number of news organizations, the United States intercepted communications between the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the terrorist branch of that organization based in Yemen.  According to these reports, al-Zawahri asked his colleagues to carry out an attack as early as yesterday.  American embassies and consulates in 19 cities around the world remained shut today as diplomats and travelers alike grappled with the fallout from the closings which were announced this past Friday.

As travelers checked in for international flights over the weekend, many had more on their minds than the trips ahead.

EMAN ALI, traveler:  We’re not really scared.  I mean, whatever happens happens.  But we have family over in Egypt.  And they told us everything is OK.

JAMES MELBY, traveler:  If I was going to the Middle East, yes, I would cancel my flight.  I wouldn’t go anywhere, North Africa, Middle East.  I wouldn’t do it.

GWEN IFILL:  In addition to the travel warning, U.S. embassies in Kabul and Baghdad were closed over the weekend, but were given the go-ahead to reopen today.

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But nearly a score of American diplomatic facilities across the Muslim world will stay shuttered all week through next Saturday, including in four African cities.  Officials cited an abundance of caution, rather than a new threat.

MARIE HARF, State Department:  As we all know, one of our top priorities is protecting people on the ground.  So, going forward, we will continue to make decisions about when embassies will be open or not.  As you know, this doesn’t happen that often that we close a large number of embassies.  So again our preference is not to have to do so, but security is our top priority.

GWEN IFILL:  The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Saxby Chambliss, said yesterday it’s the most serious threat from al-Qaida he’s seen in years.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-Ga.:  There’s been an awful lot of chatter out there.  Chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that’s going on, very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.

We didn’t take heed on 9/11 in the way that we should.  But here I think it’s very important that we do take the right kind of planning as we come to the close of Ramadan.

GWEN IFILL:  The intercepted chatter made headlines worldwide and Britain, Germany and France closed their embassies in Yemen through today.  Across the U.S., there was stepped-up security at the nation’s airports and train stations.