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
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
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
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT