Dempsey, Kerry meet to discuss al Qaeda embassy threat

Thomas pointed out that Monday's meeting "was a previously scheduled luncheon" between the two top military and diplomatic officials and was not prompted specifically by the al Qaeda threat. 

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Monday afternoon, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf offered no additional information about the status of the embassy closures, and said State was continuing to examine intelligence about possible safety threats.

"We are going to keep evaluating information as it comes in, keep analyzing the various intelligence that we're getting in," she told reporters.

Administration officials ordered the temporary closure of more than 20 diplomatic posts in the Mideast and North Africa and issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday, after government officials said they intercepted al Qaeda chatter that indicated a specific and imminent terror threat.

Department leaders on Sunday announced an extension of the closures of the embassies through next Saturday, as the potential terror threat across the region remained high. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday called the embassies and consulate closures a “temporary measure” done out of “an abundance of caution.”

The decision to extend the embassy closures came after President Obama met with senior leaders of his national security team on Saturday. 

Kerry and Dempsey attended the high-level powwow at the White House, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander. 

The threat comes as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears its end. 

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. 

Juan Zarate, who served as deputy national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, said Monday morning that the higher threat alert is similar to one in 2010 in which European sites were thought to be targets for an attack.

Zarate said al Qaeda "affiliates" in Yemen and other countries have risen up, in the wake of the Obama administration's full assault on the terror group's senior leadership in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. 

The group's Yemeni cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered one of the terrorist organization's 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, the terror threat that has shuttered embassies across the Middle East could “potentially be beyond” the Arabian Peninsula, Carney told reporters at the White House. 

“I would say that the threat is emanating from and maybe directing towards the Arabian Peninsula, but it is beyond that,” Carney said. 


—Pete Kasperowicz and Justin Sink contributed to this report.