The U.S. State Department urged all American citizens to leave Yemen on Tuesday, citing increased terrorist activity and civil unrest. All non-emergency U.S. government personnel working in the country were also evacuated. The State Department announced Sunday twenty embassies and consulates through the Middle East and North Africa would remain closed into a second week. The UK, France, and Germany also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
Security forces patrol the streets of Saana, Yemen’s capital, near the British embassy. (Photo: Reuters)
American officials cited terrorist organizations, notably al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), could be in the final stages of planning attacks against Western targets. Communication between jihadist operatives, known in the intelligence community as “chatter,” increased significantly in the few days leading up to the travel warning and embassy closures. An intercepted phone call between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP’s Yemen leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, revealed that al-Zawahiri gives “clear orders” to carry out an attack. According to a The Daily Beast report released Wednesday, U.S. officials familiar with the conversation say 20 other al-Qaeda operatives were involved in the “conference call,” including leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Iraq, and even Uzbekistan.
Some U.S. intelligence officials contend that AQAP now poses a greater threat to American interests than the network’s core leadership in Pakistan. Indeed, America continues to launch targeted air strikes on the terrorist group. A drone strike killed seven AQAP militants Tuesday, the fifth attack in less than two weeks. Yemen’s government also announced Tuesday that it had foiled a plot to bomb oil and gas pipelines and seize shipping ports.