By Jennifer Hansler | CNN
The US State Department on Thursday advised all US citizens worldwide “to exercise increased caution” due to “increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, (and) demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.”
The issuance of the worldwide caution alert is a significant message amid protests that have erupted throughout the Middle East in response to the Israel-Hamas war, with many demonstrators targeting US diplomatic compounds.
State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Thursday that “we take a number of factors into consideration when making that determination” to issue a worldwide alert.
“It’s not necessarily any one thing but everything that we’re watching around the world,” he said at a State Department briefing.
In the past week, the State Department has raised the Travel Advisory for Lebanon and Israel to the highest level and has authorized non-emergency US government personnel and family members to depart. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a cable to diplomatic posts worldwide ordering them to undertake emergency security reviews, CNN reported Wednesday.
The State Department last issued a worldwide alert in August 2022 in the wake of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, warning that “supporters of al- Qa’ida, or its affiliated terrorist organizations, may seek to attack U.S. facilities, personnel, or citizens.”
The notice issued Thursday advises US citizens abroad to “stay alert in locations frequented by tourists” and to enroll in the State Department’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.”
Todd Brown, a retired senior State Department official who worked in diplomatic security for more than 30 years, said the potential threat situation around the Israel-Hamas war “surpasses anything I have seen before in the lease with the potential to get even worse.”
“Emotions and the temperature is as high as I can ever imagine it has been,” he told CNN earlier Thursday.
Brown said the threat of escalation “isn’t just confined to the Middle East,” but could also spread to Europe as anger over the Israeli government’s actions towards Gaza grows.
“I do think that people should give some thought to their trips and not blindly think, ‘Oh, everything’s okay,’ or ‘I’m going into a European capital,” he told CNN, noting that he even advised his own daughter to postpone a trip for the time being.
He said US embassies will be evaluating their security posture and whether they need to call in additional security personnel like Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST) Marines. They may also ask the host government to provide additional security.
The State Department will also be looking at whether to authorize or order personnel and family members to depart from embassies, noting this is particularly likely in places like Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. Brown said that the State Department takes into consideration things like whether the diplomats’ housing is spread out and if it is a diplomatic post that allows children when deciding whether to allow or order personnel to leave.
Brown said that the optics of withdrawing personnel “does come into play to some degree, but I don’t think it’ll be the overriding factor if there truly are people in harm’s way in the community, and it’s a way to make people safer.”
The State Department will also be looking at whether to restrict the movement of diplomats within the country for safety reasons. Some diplomatic posts already have these restrictions.
“This is one I think is really, really concerning, and no doubt everybody’s got their eye on the ball closely here,” Brown said.
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