US evacuates consulate staff in Pakistan's second city over terror alert
The US State Department has mandated the evacuation of most diplomats from the American consulate in Lahore, Pakistan in response to a terrorist threat on the office which is located in the heart of the Punjab province.
State Department officials said they have issued an “ordered departure” for all diplomats in Lahore Thursday, leaving behind only a small number of emergency personnel. The rest of the consulate staff was evacuated to Islamabad.
“We have picked up what we regard as a threat worthy of taking this action,” said a senior US official.
A State Department warning advised US citizens against traveling to Pakistan, saying the department has “ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the US Consulate in Lahore.” The exact specifics of the threat are currently unknown.
“The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to US citizens throughout Pakistan,” the travel warning continued.
Officials refused to speculate on whether the cause for evacuation was connected with earlier threats elsewhere throughout the Middle East, although no US diplomatic posts were closed in Pakistan as a result of the prior warnings. Pakistan is thought to be the home of top Al-Qaeda leadership and Lahore, specifically, is a known stronghold for Kashkar-e-Tayyiba, which the US has deemed a terrorist group.
“We are still digging and trying to trace whether it is related,” the anonymous official told CNN. “I’m not willing to say it’s related, but can’t say it is unrelated. We just don’t have that level of granularity yet.”
At least 44 people were killed earlier Thursday when suicide
bombers targeted funerals on both sides of the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Approximately 30 were killed in the
Pakistani city of Quetta - located in the western region of the
Baluchistan Province - when an explosion detonated at the funeral
of a police officer.
The US closed nearly two dozen embassies and consulates across the Middle East earlier this week after intercepting a message between senior Al-Qaeda militants who were reportedly planning an attack as the Muslim festival of Ramadan entered its final days. Diplomatic posts were closed Sunday in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere due to US intelligence reports indicating a terror threat.
“I think we know a lot more about the when than the where. And you can tell that from the breadth of closures across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,” Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN earlier in the week. “But the when was very specific in terms of a Sunday. Obviously, that may continue and the closures may continue. The travel warning is more extensive. But this is not the usual kind of chatter, not the more generalized ‘Death to the Americans’ or ‘Death to great Satan.’”
Other experts noted that if an attack was indeed targeting a diplomatic office it would buy US officials time to identify the militants responsible or for other potential targets to prepare for a threat, which may have been the case in Lahore, Pakistan on Thursday.
“It all leads us to believe something could happen in the near
future,” one US intelligence official said.
Yemen, in particular, has been of special interest to security officials.
Along with Pakistan, Al-Qaeda higher-ups are thought to be congregating in a remote mountainous region of the Arab nation.
Twelve suspected Al-Qaeda operatives were killed on Thursday alone by three US drone strikes, each of which targeted moving vehicles.
Also on Thursday, Yemeni authorities said they discovered Al-Qaeda plots focusing on foreign embassies in the capital city of Sanaa and international shipping ports in the Red Sea. An Associated Press reporter said that drones were audibly buzzing over Sanaa, leaving citizens anxious over the potential threat.