Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What's behind timing of terror threat

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, and Bailey Cahall, Special to CNN
August 13, 2013 -- Updated 1545 GMT (2345 HKT)
U.S. troops led the investigation of the site of a suicide car bombing and a gunfight near the <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/13/world/asia/us-consulate-afghanistan-attack/index.html?hpt=hp_t2'>U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan</a>, on Friday, September 13. Taliban militants attacked the consulate using a car bomb and guns to battle security forces just outside the compound. An intercepted al Qaeda message led to the <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/04/politics/us-embassies-close/index.html'>closing of 22 embassies and consulates</a> across the Middle East and North Africa on August 4. Take a look at other attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites in recent years. U.S. troops led the investigation of the site of a suicide car bombing and a gunfight near the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, on Friday, September 13. Taliban militants attacked the consulate using a car bomb and guns to battle security forces just outside the compound. An intercepted al Qaeda message led to the closing of 22 embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa on August 4. Take a look at other attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites in recent years.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
Attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bergen, Cahall: U.S. issued global travel alert, 21 embassies, consulates close Aug. 4
  • That day is Ramadan 'Night of Power,' also seen by al Qaeda as good night for martyrdom
  • They say night of power has brought earlier terror attacks; embassies a favored target
  • Writers: Target may be Egypt, where earlier attack aimed; jailbreaks may also be factor

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." Bailey Cahall is a research associate at the New America Foundation.

(CNN) -- On Friday the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert because of an unspecified al Qaeda threat. The location of that threat, the department said in a bulletin, is "particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula." As a result, an unprecedented 22 embassies and consulates in 17 countries in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia closed for a day on Sunday.

Sunday is also the 27th day of Ramadan and a particularly holy day for the world's Muslims as it is the "Night of Power," when the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

It is also seen by al Qaeda's would-be martyrs as a particularly auspicious day to die.

On the Night of Power in 2000, which that year fell on January 3, al Qaeda militants attempted to launch a suicide attack against the American warship USS The Sullivans off the coast of Yemen with a bomb-filled boat.

That attack failed, but the same group of militants then attacked the USS Cole 10 months later, again using the tactic of a bomb-laden boat, which exploded, killing 17 American sailors.

A recently intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives alarmed the U.S. State Department and led to the closing of 22 embassies and consulates Sunday, August 4, across the Middle East and North Africa. On Sunday afternoon, the State Department said it had extended the closures in 15 of the locations until Saturday, August 10, and added four other posts to the list. Click through to see which facilities are affected, beginning with the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, which is closed for the week. A recently intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives alarmed the U.S. State Department and led to the closing of 22 embassies and consulates Sunday, August 4, across the Middle East and North Africa. On Sunday afternoon, the State Department said it had extended the closures in 15 of the locations until Saturday, August 10, and added four other posts to the list. Click through to see which facilities are affected, beginning with the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, which is closed for the week.
Intercepted message spurs embassy closings
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Embassy closings Embassy closings
Chaffetz: Security measures go too far
Embassy terror threat
Terror threat prompts embassy closures

Is rash of brazen prison breaks related?

It was the day after the Night of Power in December 2001 that Osama bin Laden signed his will as he feared death from American bombs falling during the battle of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda and aligned organizations have a long history of attacking U.S. embassies and consulates, beginning in 1998 with the bombings of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed more than 200, and including, most recently, the storming of the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 last year.

For al Qaeda, these diplomatic compounds are attractive targets because they symbolize American power and because their locations are widely known. Indeed, several of the embassies and consulates closed on Sunday have been attacked by al Qaeda and affiliated groups before.

In Saudi Arabia, militants breached the outer wall of the U.S. consulate in Jeddah on December 7, 2004, killing five.

The U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, was targeted by an al Qaeda affiliate two times in 2008, attacks that killed 21.

On September 13, 2011, the Haqqani network, a Taliban group closely associated with al Qaeda, attacked the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing five Afghan police officers and 11 civilians.

Though U.S. officials have not confirmed the targeting of a specific embassy, it is likely that the American compound in Cairo is a particular point of concern. In May, three men were arrested by Egyptian officials, who said the men were planning to attack the embassy. Officials said they discovered 22 pounds of aluminum nitrate, instructions on how to make bombs, and materials published by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network's North African affiliate.

Another possible factor in the timing of the al Qaeda alert is that in the past two weeks, massive jailbreaks in Iraq and Libya have released more than a thousand prisoners, some with significant ties to al Qaeda. Very few of those inmates have been recaptured.

The U.S. embassies in Baghdad, Iraq, and Tripoli, Libya, are among the facilities that will be closed on Sunday.

(Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of Osama bin Laden's will signing.)

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT