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 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:46 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT