A New Travel Warning for Egypt? No Comment or Howabout “There Are No Guarantees In This Business”

The NYT reported on May 11 that Egyptian security forces have arrested three militants with ties to Al Qaeda who were planning terrorist attacks in Egyptian cities and against a foreign embassy.  An unnamed western official told the NYT that the Egyptians had privately identified the embassy as the US Embassy in Cairo. Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said at a news conference that the suspects had been arrested with 22 pounds of explosive materials and instructions on how to make bombs and build rockets and model airplanes to use in the attacks.

He said the suspects were ‘‘on the verge’’ of attacking an embassy when they were arrested.

The State Department would not comment on the Egyptian allegations. ‘‘We don’t discuss the specifics of our operations nor the exchanges we have with foreign officials,’’ said Jennifer R. Psaki, a department spokeswoman.

As of this writing, there is no USG Travel Warning issued for Egypt.  There is a Travel Alert dated March 29, 2013 that talks about “the continuing possibility of political and social unrest, incidents of which have led to recent violence.” Also that “There have been no reports of U.S. citizens being targeted specifically because of their nationality; however, in isolated instances, Westerners and U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations.”

That March 29 alert made no mention of al-Qaeda or terrorism in Egypt. The Embassy’s Messages to U.S. Citizens do not appear to include any details about the October 2012 incident where an al-Qaeda cell was caught in Cairo’s Nasr City. At least, we could not find anything on the embassy or OSAC’s website.

We have several contacts in Egypt and one of them shared with us the security advisory sent by an international organization to its 1,000 plus personnel in Egypt on May 11. Below is an excerpt:

Egyptian security forces reportedly apprehended three militants with alleged ties to al-Qaeda in Alexandria and Cairo on May 11. Initial reports indicate militants planned to execute suicide bombings in central locations in Cairo and Alexandria in the coming days, including in Metro stations. Mohammed Ibrahim then added that their target was a “foreign embassy”, which other reports claimed was the French Embassy in Cairo’s Giza district.

The minister further stated that the cell is related to a previous cell that was apprehended in Nasr City on October 24, 2012. In that incident, forces raided a suspected militant hideout in Cairo’s Nasr City District, killing one suspect said to have been linked to the deadly September 11 Consulate in Benghazi.

The security advisory on its assessment says that the arrests highlight the continued presence of Islamist militants “throughout Egypt and their connection with transnational extremist networks.”

The advisory also notes that the militants of the Nasr City cell who were apprehended in October last year were arrested on suspicion of possessing weapons, engineering attacks in Cairo, planning assassinations of government leaders, and smuggling weapons from Libya to support the rebels in Syria. It warns that “A suicide attack in the immediate term highlights militants’ ability to advance beyond the preliminary stages of planning attacks, which coincides with the ongoing security and intelligence vacuum that emerged following the January 2011 revolution.”

Apparently, there were reports claiming that the target was the French Embassy. The advisory addressed this but appeared convinced that “there remains a high likelihood” that the US Embassy Cairo may have ben the target due to the “notable rise in Anti-US sentiments” since the Arab Spring:

In case the French Embassy was not the intended target, we assess there remains a high likelihood that other Western missions in Cairo may have been targets, primarily the U.S. and Israeli embassies. This is due to a notable rise in anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiments in North Africa since the 2011 upheaval.

Also — the security advisory points to the potential risk for reprisal attacks in the aftermath of the arrests:

As details emerge regarding the background of the detainees, we assess that the risk for reprisal attacks in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt will increase.  This threat is likely to include, but is not limited to, the targeting of security installations as well as foreign interests. Furthermore, in case the planned attack was indeed related to the situation in Mali, this threat applies to Western-affiliated interests in the Middle East and Africa regions as a whole, and not solely in Egypt. 

Via Google Earth

Google Earth

Okay then –

We’re going to have to ask a delicate question – which will annoy folks at Embassy Cairo’s front office.

Did post management know that there is this threat? Does it know about the threat to the mission now?

If the answer is “no” — does that mean their local and intel contacts are plainly useless? But … but …see, apparently “Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.”

Well, then if that is true, then the answer had to be a “yes.” In which case the policy of “No Double Standard” kicks in. That’s the part where if/when the Department shares information with the official U.S. community (as in travel warnings/alerts/consular info program), it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals (see 7 FAM 052.1).

So far we haven’t seen anything from US Embassy Cairo.  This is a curious case that’s bugging our OCD plenty.

Update on May 12@9:50 am:  Wait — we posted this past midnight last night and  this morning, a blog pal kindly knocked us on the head on this — telling the blog that it is “easy” to get around the No Double Standard policy.  See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  So, really —  if you carry on as before, and you don’t change official behavior or advice, you don’t need to tell anyone.

Oops …. but… but … oh, dammit!!

If you missed our blog post on US Embassy Cairo on May 11th, see  US Embassy Egypt: From the Real Post Reports, the New Cairo; Plus Western Embassy Targeted.  That post merit at least a triple curse!

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

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