Al Qaeda Threat Prompts Closing of 21 U.S. Embassies

ABC News' Alex Marquardt, Dana Hughes and Molly Hunter discuss the nature of terrorist threat.
14:10 | 08/02/13

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Transcript for Al Qaeda Threat Prompts Closing of 21 U.S. Embassies
This is a special report from ABC news. -- when I'm -- -- and you -- with an ABC news digital special report sounding the alarm the State Department has issued a worldwide travel warning. And told at least 21 US embassies in the Muslim world to shut down this Sunday. Some of them already on lockdown US officials say they have intelligence -- to a credible threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates. About a planned attack on one or more American diplomatic outposts. LA BC's Martha Raddatz spoke to general Martin Dempsey chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today and had this to say about the latest alert we've seen an increased threat stream of activity. And also we try to match those things up sometimes with events on the calendar. General -- goes on to mention the night of power an event in -- on it could coincide with the threat. Dan says that in the past they've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan a spike of violence on those particular days. So we are acting with caution. We'll have more. Of that interview this Sunday on this week but right now when -- bringing ABC's team in the Middle East in Washington -- -- part. Is in Cairo Egypt via Skype and Molly hunter in Amman Jordan today. Also speak to -- Hughes the State Department in just a moment in Washington DC refers out of wanna go do you. What can you tell us about the night -- -- why -- al-Qaeda choose it as a time to take aim at western targets. Well Dan did the translation that out of power translation is just one of several in Arabic it's known as laid out -- -- that. And it's the knights that Muslims -- -- the Muslims celebrate the anniversary of when they believe. Profit the Prophet Mohammed received its first koranic verses it's celebrated on different nights throughout the holy month of Ramadan -- different factions. Within these the Muslim community celebrate in different nights by. Different countries. But it's one of the most important nights during Ramadan which is most important months. Of the entire year and whether it's in Egypt or Syria or heard during -- various conflicts. That's when religious fervor is at its highest and so that's when. These extremist groups might be more inspired -- carry out these attacks and not just during Ramadan but but on -- important -- within prominent. Which is reflective of what general Dempsey told Martha Raddatz a little bit earlier today so the question against -- that is why so many embassies are on alert is a matter. Of the State Department not having specifics. Or is -- a fear of coordinated attacks. Well certainly they have specifics they haven't shared them with the public. I'm not sure to what extent -- Sheridan actually -- their embassies have been in contact with the US embassy here. I don't get the impression that too much is known about. A r.s you mentioned chairman Dempsey told Martha Raddatz that there. Various streams various threat streams streams activity. -- but they don't necessarily know where they are. They did issue a global alert -- global travel alerts ups talking about possible attacks could take place. Here in North Africa as well as the Middle East that could emanates from the Arabian Peninsula. Of course al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen. It's considered to be one of the most dangerous one -- -- the most advanced al-Qaeda cells. In the world's so it's clear that. -- believes the threat could either emanates or at least be directed towards. Countries across the Middle East and as you mentioned 21 of those embassies or or diplomatic posts including consulates. Have been closed and really the only embassies -- diplomatic posts in the world that are open on Sundays except for Israel. Are in the Muslim world so it's clear that that the intelligence community believes that that the threat. Will come. And or be directed act at this region -- up the embassy in Cairo is it closed right now. It is -- right now but today is Friday so would be closed anyway. We drove past an earlier today I've been there many times I didn't see any sort of increased level of security at least. On the outside. General Dempsey did say that they would be are raising the would be amended -- the security levels at the various embassies. Specifically at the embassies that they considered to be the biggest targets and one always will be doing that -- increasing the number of Marines inside these embassies. Of course a contingent of Marines is -- science every embassy around the world. And we were looking at a live picture there to -- square were Friday prayers are happening -- and outs I wanted to ask little bit about the logistics of that. What an embassy does close he said that the Marines are broad and and and stronger numbers. But as everyone else not essential -- they leave the grounds. It's a great question and it depends on the embassy there our embassies around the world. That are essentially fortresses if you look at the biggest US embassies we have in in Kabul and in Baghdad. And and then in smaller ones like Beirut and Lebanon. Those embassies have their personal never leaves. Rarely leave rather the grounds they lived on the grounds. And so. But all across the -- when an embassy closes would essentially means is that. The operations are shutting down that people won't be in the offices. -- -- here in Cairo for example where most embassy personnel -- Off campus if you will it means that they won't be going into worked at any sort of projects at the working on within the embassy will be stopped. But perhaps most importantly across the Muslim world that the operations that are mainly working on Sundays. Are the consular operations other locals in this case egyptians would be going to be embassy. -- to get visas to get their papers to to go overseas a lot of the American embassies. A lot of Americans staffs state the political side economics -- they would be working on an American schedule Monday to Friday normal working hours. The main operations are open on Sundays are these consular services of the people who will be most affected. Are the -- the non Americans. Secretary of state John Kerry was in Pakistan and he spoke about the turmoil. In Egypt in here's a bit of what he said. To run the country. There's a civilian government in effect they were restoring democracy. Answer my question outs and obviously. On the heels of this how is the Muslim Brotherhood reacting to that. Well. In short there they're very angry I would say in fact they're they're furious about it. They have called this a military coup from the get go they've been angry with America for not calling it a coup. They believed that America is being extremely superficial and in fact being weak in not calling it a military who simply. I'm backing whichever. Power here in Egypt is essentially is strongest is controlling other country the time the spokesman Jim -- earlier saying. That's the UN the US is now complicit. And in the deposing of president -- more -- by the military and so they think it's incredibly -- hypocritical. Four. What we do you know the US pulled itself up as a beacon for democracy around the world so they considered incredibly hypocritical for us. To now be supporting. Beat the force that that took out the first democratically elected president of Egypt. All right in the last thing out of -- ago when asked us to a larger point of those embassies being closed around the world how does -- you as a journalist uncovering -- physically in Egypt. Well. Not too much to be honest I mean I happened to the embassy number of times for meetings with the ambassador for meetings with officials so. In a sense it could make it more difficult interface -- them. To meet with -- it's it's more -- -- got its way to get them on the song these days because it is extremely busy right now. In calmer times very easy to swing by the embassy -- would essentials to get a sense of what of what they're -- -- today for example and that would an embassy official and we had to do it in a cafe. Quite a bit quite a long distance away from the embassy. So it in that sense that'll affect what we're doing but not too much it really will be affecting mostly. Other locals the egyptians here we're trying to -- win on Sunday to to get their -- -- to the states. Aren't ABC's -- court in Cairo Egypt -- thank you and of course Stacy has always right now to bring an ABC's -- hunter she is in Amman Jordan. -- -- the embassy in Amman also scheduled to be closed on Sunday Wright is the city on high alert from what you can tell. It's not out and -- as saying it's not visible from the outside your eye care that we drove by the embassy it's been one of the nicest neighborhoods in -- mind. Using very heavily guarded and still very heavily guarded he didn't nothing was obvious. -- BI. What -- public any public statements from local authorities are they telling anyone to. Be aware to be on the lookout for anything items obviously stateside when the kind of -- of a warning comes about very very specific protocols that local authorities will follow as far as issuing -- two. The citizens but what about in Jordan. In this instance I think part of it is that it's -- clear they don't necessarily know -- if they do you know I'm not sure that beeped hold they're dirty -- our -- That we spoke with -- -- -- officials say -- US embassy and dirty Indian officials. Deferred tax act city SNB and a C officials I would kind of any logistical and operational questions US embassy officials told us. Yes you need us call us -- that -- up here on ES embassy in -- -- on Sunday. Really interest -- at what about Americans that are there are there other safety precautions been put into place -- -- you know what are you being told. But we're being told to avoid an excuse while we're being told to avoid major cracked -- -- need your tourist hot spots a mine had seized a -- terrorist attacks last ten years. -- big hotels. So I probably won't be -- me right the -- season of for the injured high temperature kind of -- -- -- -- hot spots filled with Americans. Fat but we're being told it's it's this this -- usual but -- beat be on alert on Sunday. All right ABC's Mike hunter in Amman Jordan Mike thank you for -- and of course they say. As well I wanna go to Washington our -- Hughes is at the State Department Dana this state is using language that is not it's run of the mill stay alert warning when was the last time we had. This number of closings for embassies. Well Dan that's really interesting question did last time that there was kind of a -- number of closings was. Right after the -- godsey consulate attack and the protests around the Muslim world for that anti Muslim film now. What State Department officials say is that that was actually different than what's happening now -- there was a very public. Angry threats towards Americans the last time there was a number of embassy a number of embassies closed because of an intelligence tip. Happens the first anniversary of 9/11 but even then. You know we're not sure we're checking to see this might be. The largest number of closings that. Largest number of closings of embassies that has occurred. So given that is it's fair for those that might say this could be an over reaction. To last year's attack and Benghazi Libya or is it strictly based on intelligence. It's a combination of both I don't know that the State Department would say it was an over reaction. Remember that -- the good part of the last year. The department has been hammered by members of congress for not taking threats against diplomatic posts seriously. So. You don't both -- you you heard in the general Dempsey interview with Martha Raddatz that there's a very specific. Stream of credible -- and the State Department actually put that in their warnings they said that there was a specific threat. And they named al-Qaeda as being a part of that so. I think -- -- been godsey there isn't feeling that it's better to be safe than sorry. What about the fact there have been some recent prison breaks at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Pakistan. That contained al-Qaeda members has -- State Department say anything about a possible connection and related to this alert. They haven't -- You know the State Department has said that this is al-Qaeda that there's an al-Qaeda element to it and again. Chairman -- he told -- says that. You know they at this was tied to some type of al-Qaeda affiliate but there hasn't been an east but there haven't been any specifics about. What -- al-Qaeda affiliates or. We aired this is coming from and that's part of the reason why there's such a massive number of closings. They know that there's a threat out there but they can't pinpoint exactly who or where it. Might occur a lot of people that are watch they're -- to -- more information as far as what this travel alert actually means for them and what they should be doing so what is the State Department saying. US citizens should be doing based on this information. The state department's advice to US citizens is to really just be a -- here. I understand that the terrorists are looking to target western targets. That means tourist infrastructure that also means public transportation and real waste. And that means crowds of tourists and it really American citizens who are traveling or living abroad. Should be alerts and look out for situations where. Terrorists may want to take advantage of that. All right ABC's Dan Hughes at the State Department rounding up our team coverage Molly hunter in Amman Jordan. Both of you thank you very much for that. The latest on the travel warning and this weekend's threat here on And this Sunday be sure to tune into This Week with George Stephanopoulos. And -- Martha Raddatz full interview with general Martin Dempsey. For now I'm Dan Cutler -- New York with this increasing its digital special from. Special -- Report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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