ALL staff at the British embassy in Yemen have been temporarily withdrawn to the UK because of “increased security concerns”, the Foreign Office said.
The UK shut its operation after a terrorism alert reportedly sparked by intercepted messages between the head of al-Qaeda and his deputy in the country about a major attack.
The closure will last “until staff are able to return”, a spokesman said.
No date has been given for the embassy to be reopened though it will not be before the end of the Eid festival – marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – tomorrow.
“Due to increased security concerns, all staff in our Yemen Embassy have been temporarily withdrawn, and the embassy will remain closed until staff are able to return,” it said in a statement.
A number of US embassies across the Middle East and North Africa were also closed at the weekend after the secret plans discussed by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi were picked up two weeks ago by US intelligence officials, sources said.
A US intelligence official and a Middle East diplomat, who did not want to be named, said the threat was at first thought to only target Yemeni interests but was later expanded to include American and other western sites abroad.
Politicians have said it was a massive plot in the final stages but have offered no details.
UK authorities have not yet specified the nature of the threat which led to the decision to close the embassy.
However, British nationals have been warned there is a “high threat” from terrorism in the Middle Eastern country.
The Foreign Office has warned against all travel to Yemen, and those in the country have been advised to leave immediately, as it is “extremely unlikely” that their evacuation could be arranged if the security situation deteriorates.
In a statement issued from its general secretariat HQ in Lyon, France, at the weekend, Interpol urged countries to show “increased vigilance”, following a series of prison escapes over the past month, which freed hundreds of terrorists in nine states including Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
Yemen has become a stronghold of al-Qaeda over recent years, with a local offshoot in the Arabian Peninsula believed to have several hundred members, despite efforts by the country’s authorities to suppress the group and US drones killing leaders including Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemen was the source of an attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner in 2009.
Among those being withdrawn is the ambassador, Jane Marriott, just hours after she hailed a “beautiful” sunrise in the capital, Sanaa. Ms Marriott – who only took up the role last month – posted on Twitter: “It’s a beautiful Sanaa morning in this wonderful country called Yemen. Here’s hoping for a peaceful Ramadan and Eid.”
The Foreign Office said she was now on her way back to the UK.
The timing of her social media post attracted criticism from some users who pointed to a suspected US drone strike reported to have killed four alleged al-Qaeda members in a volatile eastern province of Yemen.
Ms Marriott responded to one: “I was looking at the sunrise, not entering aircraft debate.”
A specialist in nuclear weapons diplomacy, the diplomat has previously been posted to Iraq, Afghanistan and Washington –where she was a senior political adviser.