US embassy, offices in South Africa remain closed after terror threat

All US government offices in the country were ordered closed on Tuesday after authorities received 'credible,' undisclosed information about a terrorist threat.

Waldo Swiegers/AP
Police patrol outside the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, on Tuesday. The embassy and other American offices in South Africa were closed because of security concerns, officials said.

The US embassy in Tshwane (Pretoria) and US consulates in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg remained closed Wednesday, following information that US officials say indicated a specific terror threat against US government targets in South Africa.

The US diplomatic shutdown began Tuesday and comes at a time when terrorist organizations have largely shifted their strategy from so-called "hard targets," such as highly protected facilities like embassies, airports, and US military installations, to "soft targets," such as train stations, hotels, shopping malls, and sports venues.

The move also comes just a week after US authorities arrested a group of suspects thought to be building backpack bombs in Denver and in the Queens borough of New York City. A manhunt continues for a half dozen other suspects in that case.

US embassy spokeswoman Sharon Hudson Dean told the Monitor, "We are not discussing the information we have received, but it is just in South Africa," and there appear to be no security threats involving other US interests in other parts of Africa.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters: "The embassy received information about a possible threat against the embassy, and so as a precaution, the State Department decided to close US government facilities in South Africa." The US embassy has notified the American community in South Africa to "remain vigilant," Mr. Kelly added, and said, "The embassy will reopen as soon as we've completed our assessment of the security posture."

What makes the current threats against the US embassy and consulates in South Africa interesting is that at least two of the facilities, in Johannesburg and Tshwane, are practically brand-new, and have been designed specifically to prevent the sorts of truck-bomb attacks that occurred at the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in August of 1998.

The Austin-based security analysis group, Stratfor, says it is specifically this type of "hardening" of US government targets which has forced terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda to adapt and shift their focus to softer targets, such as the Madrid train system in March 2004, the London Underground system in July 2005, and a series of five hotel attacks that have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia since January 2008.

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