U.S. issues new Bahrain travel warning
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department is asking U.S. Embassy "non-emergency" employees and their families to voluntarily leave the tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, citing terrorism concerns, and warned U.S. citizens to defer travel to the country.
"The Department has received information that extremists are planning attacks against U.S. and other Western interests in the Kingdom of Bahrain," the warning, issued Saturday, states.
"Credible information indicates that extremists remain at large and are planning attacks in Bahrain."
The notice, which supersedes a previous travel warning issued Thursday, says American citizens already in Bahrain "should evaluate their own security situations and should consider departing the country."
U.S. intelligence indicates al Qaeda attacks are likely, in part because of U.S. dissatisfaction with the recent release of six terror suspects by the Bahraini government, sources said.
The suspects were arrested June 22, and the Bahrainis said they let them go the next day for lack of evidence.
A senior State Department official told CNN the six were "bad guys" and that their release has left the United States "quite concerned about Bahrain's commitment" to fight terror.
Bahrain is just a short drive over a causeway from neighboring Saudi Arabia -- where so far this year five American civilians have been murdered.
Among them was Paul Johnson, an Apache helicopter engineer employed by Lockheed Martin, who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia on June 18.
Bahraini officials are unhappy about the U.S. steps, which could signal the kingdom is not safe for Westerners.
The government and ruling family of Bahrain are pro-Western and support the U.S. military.
On Friday, Pentagon sources said up to 900 U.S. military dependents will be ordered out of Bahrain -- because of the security threat.
Bahrain is headquarters for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and maritime components of the US Central Command, and the military has 4,500 service members stationed there. There are 370 military and Defense Department families in the country.
Military sources told CNN that a number of "town-hall' meetings have been held with military families in Bahrain in the last several days. The base has no military housing.
The Pentagon insists the mandatory departure is not an evacuation, but rather a "temporary relocation."
The question, a source said, is whether it is "prudent" to keep American military family members in the country "in light of the growing insecurity and instability."
While there are no plans to withdraw any U.S. troops or curtail military operations in Bahrain, bringing families home will reduce the number of so-called "soft targets," which are increasingly the target of terrorists, sources said.
The State Department is asking U.S. Embassy "non-emergency" employees and their families to voluntarily leave Bahrain.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.