International (MNN) – The U.S. State Department announced that 20 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa will be closed through Saturday.
A press release on the department’s website said the closures were out of an “abundance of caution” and not an “indication of a new threat.” The closures, which the State Department said may be updated, are:
U.S. embassies in Antananarivo, Madagascar; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Amman, Jordan; Bujumbura, Burundi; Cairo, Egypt; Djibouti, Djibouti; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Khartoum, Sudan; Kigali, Rwanda; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Manama, Bahrain; Muscat, Oman; Port Louis, Mauritius; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Sana’a, Yemen; Tripoli, Libya; and Doha, Qatar. (Also U.S. consulates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia)
Meanwhile, worldwide travel alert remains in effect until Aug. 31. It warns U.S. citizens that al-Qaeda and affiliated groups continue to plan terrorist attacks particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The British embassy in Yemen also took care as the Muslim festival of Eid is finishing up amid “continuing security concerns” and expressed concerns over heightened tensions. Normally, the Eid celebration, or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, is an important religious holiday celebrated Sunday by Muslims worldwide, marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
It’s supposed to be a day when Muslims around the world try to show a common goal of unity. However, Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA says sometimes a religious fervor gets whipped up during Ramadan. While there has been no direct connection between Eid and terrorist attacks, he says, “There is a strain of radical Islam that sees attacking Christians as a part of their service to Allah, as really, an act of worship. So there is a connection and we do see violence on occasion that goes up during Ramadan.”
He goes on to explain that the State Department reports aren’t specific. “This threat seems to be centered in Yemen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the attack will take place. They could have branched and attacked somewhere else, so definitely, all American travelers and American government workers are on high alert throughout all this week.”
As far as why American targets or targets from the West could be chosen as attack points, Nettleton compares past experience with the current atmosphere. Many radical Islamists resent Western cultural influence as a harmful to Muslim ideals. “Striking back against the West is striking back against that so-called ‘corruption’ of Islam and those corruptive ideals that are being put out by Western agencies.”
The connection he says is more about nationalism that seems to be on the rise throughout the Arabian Peninsula. “Ethnic identity, and national identity and religious identity are basically all wrapped up into one kind of thing. That goes across the line to the West as well. To be American, in the mindset of most Muslims in the Middle East is to be Christian. So, attacking a Christian target is sort of one in the same with attacking an American target.”
That association spells bad news for Christians in those areas. It’s not unusual for believers to experience a rise in persecution during Ramadan. However, Nettleton says it’s not really a surprise to them. “They live under this kind of threat all the time because they’re living in Muslim countries , because they’re living in the shadow of radical Islam. So, for them, this is kind of just another day of living for Christ.”
The terror threat may cause rattled nerves. Attacks could be coming. Violence is an underlying part of the hostility from militant groups like al Qaeda. However, Nettleton say believers should be praying encouragement and boldness for the Christians. “Pray specifically for Muslims to encounter Christ, whether that is in the form of encountering a Christian who will share the gospel, whether that is encountering Jesus himself in a dream or a vision.” Ramadan is a time where devout Muslims seek God. Nettleton urges, “As Christians we need to pray that they will be successful , that they will truly encounter the Truth as they seek Him, the truth being Jesus Christ.”