By Katharine Houreld (Reuters)
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The U.S. government ordered the evacuation of non-essential staff from its consulate in the northeastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday due to the threat of attack, with the State Department also warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Pakistan.
“The Department of State ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the U.S. consulate in Lahore,” said a travel warning posted on the Department of State’s website on Thursday.
The warning in Lahore, near Pakistan’s border with India, comes two days after Washington evacuated some diplomats from Yemen and told its nationals to leave that country immediately.
The United States shut nearly two dozen missions across the Middle East after a worldwide alert on August 2, warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Lahore warning noted that “several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups pose a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan”.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said it was unclear when the consulate would reopen. Tensions have also risen this week with Pakistan’s neighbor India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
It was unclear if the Lahore announcement was linked with the earlier U.S. closures. The embassy spokeswoman said the closure was due to a specific threat to Lahore.
A cosmopolitan city dominated by an ancient Mughal fort, Lahore is Pakistan’s cultural capital but has also suffered from attacks by militant groups.
A bomb killed five people and wounded dozens on a restaurant-lined street, popular with tourists, in Lahore last month. Attacks have gone up since the landslide election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May elections.
Pakistan is home to a number of militant groups, including al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other sectarian groups.
The U.S. State Department initially announced the wider embassy closures would be only for last Sunday, then extended the closures of some by a week and added Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius to the closure list.
A number of the missions would have been closed anyway for most of the week due to the Eid celebration at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the State Department said.
Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, is the base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden. Militants have launched attacks from there against the West.
U.S. sources have told Reuters that intercepted communication between bin Laden’s successor as al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the Yemen-based wing was one part of the intelligence behind their alert last week.