MS Risk Blog

US closes Embassy in Saudi Arabia amid a week of threats

Posted on in Iran, Saudi Arabia, United States title_rule

The United States has closed its embassy in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and suspended all consular operations and services for two days due to security concerns.

A statement from the embassy said that consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan would not be available on Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns.” The embassy told US citizens to “be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.”

The embassy statement coincides with a security message issued on 13 March which warned that “individuals associated with a terrorist organisation could be targeting Western oil workers… for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s).” The message did not indicate a specific militant group. The security message called for US citizens to avoid large crowds, identify safe areas before walking in public, carry a phone at all times and to report any concerns to the Embassy. Two days later, the embassy announced that Consular sections’ telephone lines will not be open during the two days. The State Department in Washington said it had no further comment.

Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Middle East risk adviser Cornerstone Global Associates in Dubai, states that consular services are closed in response to specific intelligence information, rather than a general increase of risk. It is likely that the US consulate was reacting to a defined and credible threat.

Earlier last week on 9 March, the US embassy in Riyadh announced that they had become aware of a possible plot to attack employees working with oil giant Chevron in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier. The embassy said they had received information which indicated that, “as of early March, individuals associated with a terrorist organisation are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia.” The message was emailed to American citizens over the weekend, and added “There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

An email statement from Chevron said they are monitoring the situation, reassuring employees that their security is “paramount.” The oil company did not elaborate on the nature of the threat, stating, “It is not Chevron’s policy to discuss details related to the security of our employees or facilities.”

Saudi Arabia is in the geographic and political centre of international affairs that have that have caused the nation to become acutely vigilant regarding domestic security. In Yemen, the weakness of the government, which has been de-facto overthrown by Shiite Houthi rebels, has caused concerns in the Kingdom that Yemen will now become a proxy war for Iran. Diplomatic concerns have been raised between the US and Saudi Arabia due to talks between the US and Iran over an extension of Iran’s nuclear programme. The kingdom is concerned that the P5+1 nuclear negotiations could lead to greater aggression from Iran. In a meeting earlier in March, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Riyadh to reassure King Salman and foreign minister Saud al-Faisal that a nuclear accord would not cause the US to let down its guard against any Iranian interference in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been attempting to build a Sunni bloc to contain Iran and its influence abroad. The alliance has so far been met with a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.

Foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia have been targeted in a series of attacks since the kingdom joined the anti ISIS coalition last year. The last security incident to take place in Saudi Arabia involving US citizens was last October when a US citizen working for an American defence contractor was killed in Riyadh. A month later, a Danish citizen shot and injured.

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