U.S. tightens embassy security in Lebanon and Turkey, warns AmericansBy PAUL ECKERT and SUSAN HEAVEY
September 06. 2013 9:31PM
WASHINGTON — The United States tightened security at diplomatic missions in Lebanon and Turkey on Friday because of potential threats, ordering personnel out of Lebanon and offering to evacuate those in Adana in southeastern Turkey.
The State Department also warned U.S. citizens against traveling in Lebanon and southeastern Turkey and urged Americans in the rest of Turkey “to be alert to the potential for violence.”
Officials did not offer specifics about the threats, which were revealed less than a week before the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and amid an intensifying U.S. debate over President Barack Obama’s plans to strike Syria.
“These are potential threats,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters after the warnings were issued.
“Obviously, the tension ... in the region, including in Syria, plays a role in this,” Harf said. She said she was not aware of any specific threats to either post.
“Given the current tensions in the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” Harf wrote in an earlier statement.
The official warnings did not mention Syria, where Washington says troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a poison gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21.
Obama has asked the U.S. Congress to back his plan for limited strikes in response to the chemical weapons attack.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday the United States had intercepted an order from an Iranian official instructing militants in Iraq to attack U.S. interests in Baghdad if the United States launches a military strike in Syria, a close ally of Iran.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was a likely target, according to unidentified American officials quoted by the newspaper. The State Department and the CIA declined to comment on the report.
Harf also would not comment. “We have not taken any action in terms of our posts in Iraq,” she said.
“Clearly we remain concerned and (are) looking at the security throughout the region,” she said at a news briefing.
In Lebanon, officials ordered non-emergency personnel and their family members out of the country “due to threats,” the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said in statement.
The State Department urged “U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns.”
In Turkey, U.S. officials offered voluntary evacuation to reduce its diplomatic presence at the consulate in Adana, Turkey, “because of threats against U.S. government facilities and personnel.”