U.S. embassies and other installations across a wide arc of the Middle East and North Africa prepared Saturday to close or take additional precautions against a threat linked to al-Qaeda that could be directed against U.S. interests overseas Sunday.
President Obama was briefed by his top White House counterterrorism adviser Saturday about “a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” a White House official told reporters accompanying Obama to a golf outing later in the day.
The White House said he would continue to receive updates through the weekend.
Interpol issued a global security alert Saturday warning its 190 member countries to be more watchful for signs of violence following prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The international law enforcement agency said it is investigating to determine whether the breaks, which freed hundreds of militants, are related.
Interpol advised that since al-Qaeda is suspected in some of the prison incidents, member nations should be on the lookout for information that might point to any coordination among the attacks, and to locate the escapees.
A Taliban-led prison break in Pakistan on Wednesday freed hundreds of militants. A sophisticated and heavily armed July 22 assault on Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison freed about 500 convicts, including al-Qaeda operatives. In Benghazi, Libya, more than 1,000 inmates broke out of a prison July 27.
The Interpol alert followed an unusual worldwide caution for American travelers issued Friday that warned that the al-Qaeda terror network may by planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The travel alert was based on unspecified intelligence information about threats. The warning came a day after the State Department order that 21 embassies and consulates close on Sunday, usually a work day in the Middle East and several other regions.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said the closures and travel warning are not related to rumors of a possible military crackdown Sunday by the Egyptian military against protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Britain also announced that its embassy in Yemen will close on Sunday and Monday, citing heightened security concerns related to the closing days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Eid holiday that follows. Ramadan ends Wednesday. Germany had already announced a similar move.
France said it plans to close its embassy in Yemen for several days beginning Sunday, and urged French citizens to take additional precautions because of heightened security threats.
“We have elements that lead us to believe that the threat is very serious and other countries have also taken similar steps,” French President François Hollande said during a Saturday visit to southwestern France focused on agricultural issues, according to Reuters.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Post .