Nairobi: The US State Department closed its embassies in four sub-Saharan African nations as part of a heightened security alert, days before the 15th anniversary of al Qaeda`s bombings of American diplomatic missions in Kenya and Tanzania.
Those two embassies targeted in the Aug. 7, 1998, attacks were rebuilt as more heavily fortified structures away from populated areas where they would be less vulnerable to attack.
Those embassies remain open, but the diplomatic missions in Rwanda and Burundi, small countries which border Tanzania to the west, and the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius were ordered closed.
The State Department has shut down US facilities in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait until Aug 10, US diplomatic posts in 19 cities, including the four in sub-Saharan Africa, will be closed through the end of the week.
US officials gave no hint as to why the four US embassies in sub-Saharan Africa were closed. None of the four is known for high-level terror threats. A State Department spokeswoman for Africa didn`t respond to an email query.
But al Qaeda operatives remain in East Africa, and one Africa expert noted that Burundi and Rwanda each have an older US Embassy building that is less secure than newer embassies, such as those built far off the road in Tanzania and Kenya.
The expert, J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center at the Washington, DC-based Atlantic Council, also noted that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa a brother-in-law to Osama bin Laden was killed in Madagascar in 2007. Khalifa was known as an al Qaeda financier and was reportedly killed by US special operations forces.
"So there was an al Qaeda presence in Madagascar as recently as six years ago," Pham said.
As for Mauritius, it is an offshore location for "all sorts of financing activities" in a loosely regulated atmosphere, Pham said, which could be used for nefarious activities. In addition, the island nation has a territorial dispute with the UK over its ownership of the island nation of Diego Garcia, which the US military uses as a military base, including for operations in Afghanistan and formerly in Iraq, he said.