Americans Evacuated From Yemen After Al-Qaida Plot Is Revealed

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 6 2013 9:15 AM

Americans Evacuated From Yemen After Al-Qaida Plot Is Revealed

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A Yemeni soldier mans a checkpoint on a street leading to the US embassy compound in Sanaa on August 4, 2013

Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The United States on Tuesday began evacuating all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, and urged all American citizens to likewise leave the country—moves that came on the heels of the revelation that the leader of al-Qaida had allegedly given the group's Yemen affiliate the green light to carry out an attack, and only hours after a suspected U.S. drone killed four alleged al-Qaida members in the Middle Eastern nation.

Here's the Associated Press with the details on the alleged plot, which officials now say was the threat that prompted the closure of roughly 20 U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East and North Africa this week:

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A U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat said [al-Qaida chief Ayman] al-Zawahri's message was picked up several weeks ago and appeared to initially target Yemeni interests. The threat was expanded to include American or other Western sites abroad, officials said, indicating the target could be a single embassy, a number of posts or some other site. Lawmakers have said it was a massive plot in the final stages, but they have offered no specifics.
The intelligence official said the message was sent to Nasser al-Wahishi, the head of the terror network's organization, based in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. ... American spies and intelligence analysts on Monday scoured email, phone calls and radio communications between al-Qaida operatives in Yemen and the organization's senior leaders to determine the timing and targets of the planned attack.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, hasn't confirmed the suspected drone strike (something that at this point is pretty much a tradition), but Yemeni tribal leaders told Reuters the five missiles struck a vehicle traveling in Maarib Province on Tuesday, killing at least four suspected al-Qaida members who were inside.

The Pentagon said it was keeping an undisclosed number of military personnel in Yemen to support the U.S. embassy there "and monitor the security situation." The British Embassy in Yemen was also in the process of evacuating non-essential staff on Tuesday. Twenty-one U.S. diplomatic posts were shuttered on Sunday as part of the original warning that included a global travel alert. Some of those posts—including ones in Kabul, Baghdad and Algiers—reopened Monday, while posts in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda, and Mauritius were added to the closure list for this week.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.