The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday and ordered the temporary closure of nearly 20 diplomatic outposts worldwide amid the threat of a potential al Qaeda terrorist attack.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said her staff and other congressional leaders have been briefed by the administration on the situation, but declined to offer details on the nature of the terror threat.
"Now that it's in the public domain that the embassies will be closed and there's a travel alert for Americans traveling abroad, there's some understanding of the seriousness of the threat," Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Friday said Vice President Biden informed him and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), about the threat earlier this week.
"It's my understanding that it is al Qaeda-linked, alright? And the threat emanates in the Middle East and in Central Asia," Royce said on CNN.
The embassies and consulates being closed due to the terror threat include those in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
“The president is being updated on a potential threat emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” a White House official said late Friday.
The State Department’s travel alert is a sign that al Qaeda and affiliated groups still seek to carry out terrorist plots, the official said, adding that the administration believes “they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
Obama will continue to be updated on a regular basis and has directed his national security team to take every appropriate step to protect Americans, the official, who requested anonymity, said.
The security precautions by the Obama administration underscore the continued threat al Qaeda and its affiliates pose to American interests across the globe, particularly in the wake of last year's deadly strike on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The last time State Department officials issued such dire warnings of a terrorist strike was prior to the Benghazi assault, which fell on the 11-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Friday's precautions were issued as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan comes to a close. The holy holiday is traditionally accompanied by a lull in attacks by Islamic extremist groups against U.S. and Western allies
However, that month-long pause in high-profile attacks allows groups like al Qaeda the opportunity to build back up their ranks of fighters and stockpile the necessary weapons and equipment needed for the kind of spectacular attacks forecast by American intelligence.
The looming threat from al Qaeda and its various factions contrasts with President Obama's claims that the terrorist organization has been beaten and bloodied by U.S. forces into a shadow of its former self.
"After I took office, we stepped up the war against al Qaeda but we also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted al Qaeda’s leadership," Obama said in a landmark national security speech in May.
The administration's systematic dismantling of al Qaeda's core leadership through an aggressive counterterrorism strategy of armed drone strikes and so-called "kill/capture" operations, like the one that ended in Osama Bin Laden's death in May 2011, was critical in turning the tide against the terror group, Obama said.
"Today, [al Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure," Obama said at the time.
"In sum, we are safer because of our efforts," according to the president.
But the focus on al Qaeda's upper echelon has broken the group into a network of disparate terror cells, each one posing a serious threat to American military, diplomatic and intelligence operations.
Al Qaeda's Yemeni cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered one of the groups most dangerous and well-funded factions in the world.
Friday's terror threat is likely focused on possible attacks by the Yemeni network in the Mideast or North African region.
The Yemeni group was responsible for three attempted airline bombings targeting the United States over the past several years.
That said, Royce warned that the U.S. military and intelligence cannot take their eye off this most recent threat, or risk repeating the same mistakes from the Benghazi attack.
"It [is] just like before 9/11, the attack on Benghazi," Royce said of the most recent State Department warnings.
"At that point in time, remember, someone forgot to circle the calendar that it was 9/11. And we might want to preposition assets or have contingency plans in place," according to Royce.
"This time ... steps are being taken. And that's to protect our personnel," he said.
The State Department’s travel alert said the threat was focused particularly in the Middle East and North Africa and was “possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”
“Current information suggests that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations 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 travel alert said.
The travel alert mentions public transit and “other tourist infrastructure” as it reminds travelers that terrorists have targeted and attacked “subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the warning was being issued out of an “out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations,” according to The Washington Post.
Mike Lillis, Mario Trujillo and Blake Neff contributed.
— This story was posted at 11:27 a.m. and was last updated at 8:12 p.m.