Yesterday, Interpol issued a global security alert, warning countries to be on their guard following prison breaks thought to involve members of al-Qaeda.
Britain stopped short of releasing a region-wide alert but added that some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn “due to security concerns”. The embassy in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, will be closed today and tomorrow.
The warning from the international policing organisation came a day after the US state department put out a travel alert and closed 21 of its embassies across the Muslim world in response to non-specific information suggesting that al-Qaeda is planning terror attacks during August.
Interpol urged nations to show “increased vigilance”, after jail breaks in the past month, in which hundreds of terrorists were freed in nine states including Iraq, Libya and Pakistan.
“With suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the break-outs which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organisation’s 190 member countries’ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events are co-ordinated or linked,” said the police organisation.
“Interpol is asking its member countries to closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners. They are also requested to alert the relevant member country and Interpol general secretariat headquarters if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.”
UK authorities have not yet specified the nature of the threat which led to the decision to close the British embassy in the Yemeni capital. In a statement last night, the Foreign Office (FCO) said: “The embassy will be closed on August 4 and 5. We have withdrawn a number of staff from Sana’a, due to increased security concerns.”
British nationals have been 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.
“The FCO recommended particular vigilance during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends on 8 August, when “tensions could be heightened”.
Yemen has become a stronghold of al-Qaeda over recent years, with local offshoot al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula believed to have several hundred members – despite efforts by the country’s authorities to suppress the group – and United States drones killing leaders including Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemen was the source of an attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner in 2009.
There has been unrest recently after a mutiny of troops in the Republican Guard, with fighting around the presidential palace yesterday.
The US embassy in Yemen is one of 21 which will be closed tomorrow following the state department’s warning of the “continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian peninsula”.
The global travel warning to US citizens said: “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
The alert warned of “potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure”.
Explaining the embassy closures, a State Department spokeswoman said: “The department has been apprised of information that – out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations – indicates we should institute these precautionary steps.”