‘Al-Qaeda threat’ closed US embassy in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG — An Al-Qaeda splinter group threatened to attack the US embassy in Pretoria, prompting the United States to close its diplomatic posts in South Africa, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

The group phoned the embassy on Monday and threatened to attack US government buildings in South Africa, including the embassy and aid offices, The Star newspaper said, citing “well-placed security sources”.

The report did not identify the group, but said the threat was apparently prompted by the killing of a top regional Al-Qaeda leader in Somalia during a lightning US military operation last week.

Somalia’s hardline Shebab Islamist group has vowed to avenge the killing of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan citizen wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation over anti-Israeli attacks in Mombasa in 2002.

Embassy spokesman Sharon Hudson-Dean declined to comment on the report.

The embassy, consulates in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, as well as aid and development offices, have been closed since Tuesday after the State Department said a “credible” threat had been received. US government offices are to reopen on Friday.

South Africa itself is not seen as a target for terrorist attacks, but the incident has heightened security concerns in the country ahead of the 2010 football World Cup.

The South African government on Wednesday moved to assure foreign citizens of their safety, and said security forces were in constant touch with US officials.

South Africa’s national police chief said Tuesday the situation was “under control.” AFP/September 24, 2009

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