Continued from page 1

National security specialists and lawmakers in both parties agree that the administration is taking the prudent course in closing the diplomatic facilities because of the threat. But the widespread closures and the level of alarm stood in sharp contrast to the terrorism status update that Mr. Obama provided May 23 in his speech at the National Defense University in Washington.

In that address, the president said of the war on terrorism, “This war, like all wars, must end.” He did draw a distinction between “core al Qaeda” and its affiliates such as AQAP.

“From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse,” Mr. Obama said. He spoke of taking more targeted actions against “specific networks of violent extremists,” of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center for terrorism suspects and of reconsidering the U.S. policy on drone strikes against suspected terrorists.

“His was the lie of the narrow truth,” said James Carafano, a national security specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “If you parse his NDU speech carefully, he said the enemy was ‘core al Qaeda,’ which we did attrit a good bit, and affiliates that were planning attacks on U.S. or Western targets. That so narrowed the definition of ‘the enemy’ that it was easy to claim he was winning. But an ‘affiliate’ could not be actively involved in an operational plot one day and thus not be considered a threat, and then all of a sudden the next day they might be.”

Mr. Carney said the president and his top advisers have been specific to state that some al Qaeda affiliates remain threats, even as the administration has carried out more drone strikes against suspects in Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has operated.

At the State Department, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that while administration officials — including Mr. Obama — have spoken of “the decimation of al Qaeda’s core, we’ve also, at the same time, always talked about how we need to keep up pressure on al Qaeda in places like Yemen, Somalia [and] other parts of the Middle East.”

Ms. Harf rejected a suggestion that the embassy closures could be related to heightened caution about security among U.S. diplomatic leaders in the wake of last year’s deadly attacks on the U.S. interests in Benghazi.

Asked whether officials were more vigilant than normal as a result of the violence at Benghazi, where armed militants stormed the U.S. diplomatic post and a CIA safe house, Ms. Harf said that “we’ve always been very vigilant about security.”

“Clearly post-Benghazi, we’ve made it clear, from the [secretary of state] on down that security is an utmost concern to us,” she added. “But it always has been.”

New details

Multiple media reports and private briefings by administration officials have offered more details of the scope of the threat.

In interviews with The Washington Times and in television appearances during recent days, some have pointed to the central role of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The terrorist alert was issued just a day after Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, with headquarters in Yemen and known in intelligence circles simply as AQAP, is one of several branches — or offshoots — of the main al Qaeda organization originally headed by bin Laden. Of all the offshoots, AQAP is regarded by Western terrorism analysts to pose the greatest threat to the U.S. and Western interests.

A report Sunday by McClatchy Newspapers cited an unidentified official in Yemen describing the Zawahri communication with AQAP’s present leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi.

Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee announced the names of 25 suspected terrorists on Monday alleged to be planning “operations” in the Middle Eastern nation, according to a news release posted on the website of the Yemeni Embassy in Washington.

Story Continues →