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US, UK evacuate embassies in Yemen due to ‘extremely high’ security threat

The US and UK governments have ordered all non-emergency staff to leave their embassies in Yemen immediately.

The United States and Britain have evacuated their embassies in Yemen and advised all their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible due to heightened security risks.

“The US Department of State warns US citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest,” said an advisory posted on its website Tuesday. “The Department urges US citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those US citizens currently living in Yemen to depart immediately.”

All non-emergency government employees have been ordered to leave, the notice said, citing “the continued potential for terrorist attacks.”

A US military cargo plane flew embassy staff out of Yemen early Tuesday morning, US officials told ABC News.

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The UK Foreign Office on Tuesday announced that it, too, had evacuated its embassy and urged all Britons to “leave now.”

More from GlobalPost: Al Qaeda plot allegedly behind embassy closures

The US embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was one of 21 across Africa, Asia and the Middle East ordered to close on Sunday, and 19 told to remain shut through the week. The United Kingdom, Germany and France also advised their missions in Yemen to close temporarily.

Until now, US officials had described the move as a precautionary measure; but on Tuesday, the State Department described the security threat level in Yemen as “extremely high.”

The alert is believed to have been sparked by “chatter” between senior Al Qaeda militantsthat indicated a terrorist attack was planned. 

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was reportedly overheard talking with Amir Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a co-founder of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), about imminent attacks against US targets, the New York Times reported Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Yemeni officials said that at least four people were killed in a US drone strike in Maarib province, central Yemen. The targets were suspected Al Qaeda militants, tribal leaders told Reuters.

The Yemeni government also released a list of 25 terrorists it believes are planning to carry out attacks during Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr holiday this week, Reuters said.

Intelligence agencies report that Al Qaeda members from throughout the region have arrived in Sanaa in recent days, one security source told the BBC, fueling fears that an attack is on its way. 

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Authorities have ordered “unprecedented” security measures across the capital, the BBC’s correspondent said.