An Al Qaeda plot is allegedly behind the sudden closure on Sunday of American embassies across the Middle East and North Africa.
Intelligence sources told The New York Times and McClatchy that the embassies were closed after conversations involving Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri were intercepted.
The AQ chief was reportedly heard talking with Amir Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a co-founder of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), about imminent attacks against US targets.
“This was significant because it was the big guys talking, and talking about very specific timing for an attack or attacks,” one American official who had been briefed on the intelligence reports told The New York Times.
The Times witheld the names of the two Al Qaeda leaders from its reports Friday due to government requests, but published them after McClatchy Newspapers revealed the names over the weekend.
With the 2012 attack on the Benghazi consulate still fresh in officials' minds, the chatter was enough to trigger the closure of 21 US embassies in the region. France, Germany and the UK also closed their embassies in Yemen.
The areas around the embassies are reportedly on lockdown, and cars are being searched. The embassies are likely to stay closed all week.
The Times reported that although the intercepted called revealed the interlocutors's identities, their locations were not given.
US Senator Lindsey Graham said that the embassy closures are more evidence that the National Security Administration's intensive surveillance programs are necessary.
“Al Qaeda is on the rise in this part of the world and the NSA program is proving its worth yet again,” Graham told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The last Al Qaeda bombing in the region killed 100 military cadets at a parade in Yemen in May 2012.