The announcement comes towards the end of a week marked by security threats considered serious enough by the federal government to warrant the closure of more than 20 diplomatic missions across the Middle East and Africa, and to evacuate some diplomats from Yemen and advise U.S. nationals to leave that country immediately.
Pakistan marks the end-of-Ramadan holiday of Eid on Friday. The closing days of the fasting month have seen the country rocked by fresh acts of terrorism, including a bombing in Karachi early Wednesday that killed at least 11 people, most of them children playing soccer; and a suicide bombing at a funeral in Quetta on Thursday that cost the lives of at least 30 people, mostly policemen and including two senior officers.
After the Quetta blast, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – a group with close links to al-Qaeda – claimed responsibility and promised “another big attack in the next coming days,” the Karachi daily Dawn reported.
“Anywhere and whenever we get the chance, we will target security forces, government officials and police,” it quoted the spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, as saying.
The State Department did not elaborate on the nature of the “specific threat” targeting the consulate in Lahore, which is Pakistan’s second-largest city.
“The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan,” its advisory said. “Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.”
“Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit,” the notice said.
Last Sunday the U.S. closed 17 embassies and four consulates that normally operate on Sundays – in most of the Arab countries and Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but not Pakistan.
The administration subsequently reopened some of them, but closed others for the whole week. Again, Pakistan was not among those shuttered.
The State Department also issued a worldwide alert on August 2, warning that “[c]urrent 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 TTP, a conglomeration of a dozen militant organizations commonly called the Pakistani Taliban, has targeted the U.S. before, carrying out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in April 2010 in which six Pakistanis were killed. The U.S. also blamed the group for an unsuccessful attempt to detonate a bomb in New York City’s Times Square a month later.
Later in 2010 the U.S. government designated the TPP a foreign terrorist organization, describing it as a “force multiplier” for al-Qaeda – or, as the administration prefers to call it, “core al-Qaeda,” to draw a distinction between the Pakistan-based network led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and affiliates in Yemen, Iraq, north Africa and elsewhere.
This week’s security scares have generated renewed debate about the administration’s repeated declarations, especially since the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, that “core al-Qaeda” is on the run.
Addressing U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif. on Wednesday, President Obama praised them for their role in the fight against terrorists.
“Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more,” he said. “Because of you, al-Qaeda’s top ranks have been hammered. The core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the way to defeat.”
The president warned that terrorist threats persist, alluding to this week’s embassy closures.
“Even as we decimated the al-Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11, al-Qaeda affiliates and likeminded extremists still threaten our homeland, still threaten our diplomatic facilities, still threaten our businesses abroad. And we’ve got to take these threats seriously and do all we can to confront them,” he said. “We’ve been reminded of this again in recent days.”
“As for these extremists, here’s what those who would cowardly attack our civilians don’t get: The United States is never going to retreat from the world,” Obama added. “We don’t get terrorized.”