Threat Against U.S. Embassy In UAE

William Burns, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, left, shakes hands with Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE information and culture Minister in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sunday March 21, 2004.
AP Photo/WAM
The U.S. Embassy and the consular office in the United Arab Emirates have closed temporarily because of a "specific threat" against the embassy received Wednesday morning, a U.S. spokeswoman said.

Hilary Olsin-Windecker, spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi, declined to comment on the nature of the threat or on how it was received.

It came two days after Israeli forces assassinated the founder of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which prompted immediate calls for revenge against Israeli and American targets. The United States expressed concern about the killing, but Washington is widely seen in the region as able but unwilling to curb Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

"The embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai have temporarily suspended operation on Wednesday, March 24, in light of a specific threat to the embassy in Abu Dhabi," Olsin-Windecker said, reading a statement. She said the threat was received early Wednesday morning.

She said the security situation will be reviewed on Thursday and Friday, when the U.S. offices in the Emirates are regularly closed, to determine whether they will reopen on Saturday.

"We have no specific threat information against the American community in the UAE," Olsin-Windecker added. However, she noted the State Department has issued worldwide and Middle East-North Africa cautions in light of the Israeli killing Monday of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in the Gaza Strip.

She said she was unaware of any threats to other U.S. embassies in the region.

The assassination of Yassin Monday came in the midst of a previously scheduled diplomatic mission by U.S. envoy William Burns, who was discussing the situation in the Mideast as he made stops in Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

He's in Libya now.

On Tuesday, the State Department issued an alert for the Middle East and North Africa saying it is "deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad in the aftermath of the recent killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza."

"The Department is also concerned about the potential for demonstrations and violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests in the region and throughout the world in response to his death," the warning read.

It urged vigilance and specified the Persian Gulf, Arabian Peninsula, Red Sea and North Africa as areas where terror actions could target transportation and maritime interests. It said "credible information" has indicated terrorist groups may be planning attacks against American interests.

Sunday's visit by U.S. envoy Burns to the United Arab Emirates is just one sign of the links between the U.S. and the UAE - a group of states led by an unelected ruler - and a base for U.S. troops at the beginning of the most recent war in Iraq.

The UAE actively courts foreign investment from the U.S. and many other nations and has used tax breaks and other inducements to convince hundreds of technology companies - including Microsoft - to open offices in their desert.

The UAE is also home to a low tech, high glamour sport: thoroughbred racing, with the $6 million Dubai World Cup - the world's richest horse race - set for this Saturday.

And that means quite a few names famous in the U.S.A. will be on hand in the UAE this week: jockeys, trainers and horses.