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.
The travel warning issued by the State Department also reiterated longstanding advice to US citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Pakistan.
The closure comes as Pakistan celebrates the festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and a day after a suicide bomber killed 38 people at a police funeral in the southwestern city of Quetta.
“On August 8, 2013, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency US government personnel from the US Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan,” a State department statement said.
The Department of State ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the US Consulate in Lahore.
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to US citizens throughout Pakistan.
Meghan Gregoris, spokeswoman for the US embassy in Islamabad, said the evacuation was not linked to a terror threat that prompted the closure of 19 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa.
“We received information regarding a threat to our consulate in Lahore. As a precautionary measure we have undertaken a drawdown for all but emergency personnel in Lahore,” she told AFP.
The US embassy and consulates in Karachi and Peshawar are closed todayfor the Eid al-Fitr public holiday but are expected to open again on Monday, she said. But the Lahore mission was likely to remain closed and there was currently “no indication” of when it might reopen.
“We will continue to evaluate threat reporting and take decisions as appropriate,” she said.
Despite Pakistan’s fractious alliance with the United States in the “war on terror”, anti-American sentiment runs deep in the restive country, fuelled in part by the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes against militants in the tribal northwest.
A suicide car bomber rammed a US diplomatic vehicle in the northwestern city of Peshawar last September, wounding around 20 people — at least the third time the consulate and its staff had been attacked by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants since April 2010.
This week’s closure of US missions mainly in the Arab world was reportedly ordered because of intercepted messages from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to the terror network’s Yemeni franchise.
The alert focused on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group which has made several attempts to attack the United States in recent years and is widely seen as the group’s most sophisticated offshoot.
On Tuesday the US and other Western nations withdrew diplomatic staff from Yemen, where the Americans are fighting a drone war against the Al-Qaeda regional affiliate.
US officials have said Al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated in recent years. They cite the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden and the killing of several senior operatives in US drone strikes.