Conflict & Justice

World on edge: security alerts heighten tension


Pakistani security personnel stand alert outside the US consulate in Lahore on August 9, 2013. The United States has evacuated all non-emergency staff from its consulate in the Pakistani city of Lahore, citing "specific threats" amid a worldwide alert over Al Qaeda intercepts.



A little on edge, are we?

With Al Qaeda and terrorism seemingly on every front page this week, frayed nerves across the globe have prompted security alerts from Philadelphia to Paris to Pakistan – some warranted, others not so much.

You can probably attribute it to nearly two dozen American embassies or missions suddenly, and with little explanation, rolling up the shutters and telling everyone to go home Aug. 4.

Authorities in the United States reportedly intercepted phone conversations between high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders. They purported an attack on an embassy, but it wasn’t clear where, so missions in the Middle East and North Africa closed. Nearly all of them. 

Embassy Evacuations

GlobalPost contributor Mac Deford, a retired Foreign Service officer, summed up our amplified paranoia nicely with a simple question:

“Nearly 12 years after 9/11, two wars, tragic losses of life, trillions of dollars, an Arab world with waning American influence, airport security still driving travelers mad, citizens’ phone calls copied and stored for posterity, and now a score of US diplomatic posts closed by Al Qaeda threats: if the battle is Al Qaeda versus the US, who’s winning?”

The thought of a rejuvenated, and presumably nastier, Al Qaeda still operating around the world, we have the aforementioned alarm bells ringing.

Here’s a list of recent security warnings, both real and imagined, from across the globe. Let us know if we missed any:

Prison Breaks

Even before the embassies closed, Interpol issued a dire warning that said hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives are likely walking the streets again after a massive prison break in Iraq on July 21. They followed that announcement a few days later by adding Libya and Pakistan to the list of countries with missing prisoners.


Forget Afghanistan and Iraq, evidently Yemen is the new center of terrorism. That’s if you believe what the State Department is saying, and where drones are exploding with increasing regularity. Security experts say Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s horrible brainchild, is the among the most violent and active terrorist cells in the world.

A military aircraft flew American embassy officials from Yemen to Germany this week because of a “high risk” situation. One half of that intercepted phone conversation – the one that prompted widespread embassy closures – took place in Yemen. The other end of the phone was reportedly in …


Saying there’s a credible, specific threat to its mission in Lahore, Americans working in that city moved to the capital Islamabad for safety.

Americans were told to delay non-essential travel to Pakistan, and those already there were told to limit their movements inside the country. To make you feel worse is news that closing offices there is NOT related to earlier warnings that prompted closures of Middle Eastern and African embassies. Not that Islamabad is much safer, with that city under high alert because Pakistani intelligence learning of threats to parliament and the airport.


Israel is also taking precautions and on Thursday closed an airport in the southern resort city of Eilat.

It was intelligence from Egypt that was said to prompt the move, with authorities there suggesting terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula have missiles pointed at Israel. Egyptian security forces said they captured 100 suspected terrorists in Sinai this week.


After Lebanese militants kidnapped two of its airline pilots on Friday, Turkey warned its citizens to leave Lebanon. Turkey borders Syria, and the kidnappers said they would trade the Turkish Airline pilots for nine Lebanese hostages in Syria, BBC said. Turkey is sympathetic to Syrian Sunni rebels, while Lebanon backs Assad’s Shia majority.


No stranger to bomb threats, the widely popular Eiffel Tower closed for two hours on Friday as police investigated a scare that wasn’t there. Reuters said 7 million people visit the 1,000-foot tower every year, with as many as 30,000 each day during the tourist season. It closes twice a year because of threats, Reuters said, and it’s unclear what prompted this most recent evacuation.


US Airways flight 777 from Dublin to Pittsburgh made an emergency landing in Philadelphia this week because of a phoned-in threat. It was an “abundance of caution” that the flight diverted, and the threat proved unfounded. 


A bomb squad converged on a federal building in the Emerald City on Friday because someone left a suspicious package on a drinking fountain. There was no bomb, and not even any white powder.

More from GlobalPost: Did Yemen really foil an Al Qaeda plot?