The State Department has shuttered the doors of its consulate in Pakistan and ordered the evacuation of all non-essential staff in anticipation of a terrorist threat, marking the latest in a string of closings across the Muslim world.
"The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan," the State Department said in an official Travel Warning issued Thursday night. "Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit. Terrorists and criminal groups regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom."
The Pakistani government is also on heightened alert, the statement says, following attacks at military installations. Pakistan has been home to increased Taliban and al-Qaida violence, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along its border with Afghanistan.
This consulate in Lahore is the latest in a string of facilities to close ahead of what senior U.S. officials have called a threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Twenty embassies and consulates remain closed in other Muslim countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Kuwait, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.
"The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests," said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier this week.
Five separate attacks have occurred in Pakistan since April 2012. A bomb in a Shiite area of Karachi on March 3 killed 50 people and destroyed several buildings. Two bombs in January and February killed 80 people in Quetta. A group of unidentified terrorists, according to the State Department, attacked a vehicle convoy in Peshawar in September, killing both Americans and Pakistanis. And three died and 30 were injured in an explosion on the Lahore Railway Station in April 2012.
State's Travel Warning cites the 2011 raid that successfully killed Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad as the source of some of the increased danger throughout Pakistan.
Pakistani officials and leaders have also strongly criticized the U.S. deployment of armed drones to its airspace to strike reported terrorist targets. The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. called the strikes a "red line," earlier this year. There was a conspicuous absence of these attacks , during the Pakistani election season from April to May of this year.
"Every drone strike is a little bit of gasoline on a fire," said Karl Kaltenthaler, a professor at The University of Akron and expert on drone strikes in Pakistan.
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