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Entries in Embassy (18)

Tuesday
Sep182012

Sec. Clinton Says No ‘Actionable Intelligence’ on Benghazi Attack

State Dept(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Tuesday the intelligence surrounding the U.S. consulate in Benghazi did not indicate that the consulate was under a specific threat before it was attacked last week.

“With all of our missions overseas in advance of Sept. 11, as is done every year, we did an evaluation of threat streams,” said Clinton. "The office of the director of National Intelligence has said we have no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”

Clinton’s comments echo what United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice said on ABC’s This Week, where she said all indications were that extremists “hijacked” a “spontaneous” protest.

The secretary said that the attacks are the work of extremists taking advantage of the widespread outrage over the anti-Muslim video being widely circulated on the Internet.

“There are extremists in all of these this societies and on the outside who are working to take advantage of broad outrage in order to incite violence and specifically incite violence against Americans and American facilities,” she said.

Since the attack, which lasted nearly five hours and resulted in the deaths of four diplomats, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, questions have emerged about the security for both the consulate and the ambassador.  Clinton gave further details about the measures taken, including a “robust” security presence inside the compound, which was surrounded by a wall.

“Let me assure our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world,” Clinton told reporters.   

Last Friday, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland emphatically told reporters that none of the security provided at the Benghazi consulate were provided by a private security firm.

“All of the security in Libya has been done by Libyans, by American government personnel, and then to a very limited extent these individual contracts with individual security personnel, but there was never a contract with a company, and there was never a plan to have a contract with a company,” she said.

But Tuesday, Nuland corrected her original statement, telling reporters that in fact the State Department did hire a private security company, a British firm called the Blue Mountain Group, which Nuland said has a permit to operate within Libya to hire local security guards.

“They were hired to provide local Libyan guards who operated inside the gate doing things like operating the security access equipment, screening the cars, that kind of thing,” said Nuland.

Blue Mountain says on its website that it provides both security and training and has recently operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other dangerous places for clients ranging from Google to Cadburys.

Wired reported that the company signed a six-figure contract with the State Department to protect the consulate four months ago. Nuland said that the company remains on contract, “pending a full assessment of the security situation.”

Clinton didn’t speak specifically to where the guards protecting the consulate in Benghazi were from but did say the State Department is now taking aggressive steps to protect its employees, consulates and embassies around the world, and is reviewing security at every post.

Clinton also confirmed that the FBI is now in Libya, working with local officials on the investigation and stressed that there will be justice for the four murdered diplomats.

“We will not rest until the people who orchestrated this attack are found and punished,” the secretary said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug312012

WikiLeaks Founder Says Swedes May Drop Case

BERTIL ERICSON/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- In a South American television interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says that he thinks he could be living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for up to a year, and that the Swedish government could drop its sexual assault investigation.

Assange, 41, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy since June, when he fled there after British authorities approved his extradition to Sweden. The Swedish government wants to question Assange about allegations of assault made by two women. The Ecuadorean government officially granted Assange asylum earlier this month, but British authorities have said they will arrest him if he leaves the embassy.

Assange told Telesur, a channel seen in Ecuador and neighboring countries, that he thinks it will take six to 12 months for a resolution of his situation, and that he expects the standoff will be solved via diplomacy or through "an unusual world occurrence that we can't predict."

He said war with Iran, the outcome of the U.S. election or the "Swedish government dropping the case" could end the impasse. "I think this is the most likely scenario," said Assange. "Maybe after a thorough investigation of what happened [Swedish authorities] could drop the case."

In the interview, he also asserted that both he and his organization were the subject of political persecution. "Ecuador has been correct in showing its values in this case," said Assange.

Assange has said that he sought asylum because he feared the Swedish government could deliver him into U.S. custody. WikiLeaks has released thousands of State Department cables and other sensitive U.S. government information. The Ecuadorian government cited the threat of Assange's extradition to the U.S. in granting Assange's asylum request.

The Ecuadorean government has claimed that the U.K. has threatened to invoke a national law that would allow it to revoke the embassy's protected diplomatic status and take Assange from the embassy, an apartment in Knightsbridge, by force.

British foreign minister William Hague has denied that the U.K. has issued any threat to storm the embassy. This week, Hague said that "given Ecuador's position on what they call diplomatic asylum and our very clear legal position, such a solution is not in sight at the moment."

In August 2010, police in Sweden began investigating accusations of sexual assault against Assange made by two women. According to British police documents, one of the accusers claims Assange pulled her clothes off, pinned her arms and legs and refused to use a condom. She told a friend that the act was both violent and the worst sex she'd ever had. A British attorney representing Swedish prosecutors told the court earlier this year that Assange had raped the second woman while she was sleeping.

In May, the U.K. upheld the validity of the Swedish prosecutor's arrest warrant, making him subject to extradition to Sweden by the end of June. He had been living under house arrest at the mansion of a supporter in the English countryside. He sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar152012

Did Iranian Proxies Target US Embassy Abroad?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAKU, Azerbaijan) -- Nearly two dozen people are in custody in Azerbaijan for allegedly plotting terror attacks on U.S. and Israeli embassies in the Azeri capital of Baku on behalf of neighboring Iran, according to local and international reports.

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry released a statement Wednesday saying it had arrested 22 of its citizens who were recruited by Iran's Revolutionary Guard to "commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees," according to Agence France Presse.

It was not immediately clear whether the suspects had been recently arrested or if the ministry was commenting on a previous round of arrests reported last month.  The Azeri National Security Ministry did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for clarification.

In addition to the purported embassy plots, "the Azerbaijanis began spying on diplomatic missions, companies and public organizations including the Jewish center Sohnut, a U.S. fast food restaurant, British oil company BP-Azerbaijan's office and other objects in Baku," the Ministry said in its statement, according to the AFP.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday that the State Department was working to get a fuller picture of the plot and those behind it.

"We are in the process of coordinating with our embassy in Baku," she told reporters.

During the arrests, officials found weapons and explosives, AFP reported.  A local news outlet, Contact, reported the weapons seized included sniper rifles and pistols, as well as grenades and grenade launchers.

Some of the suspects were recruited as early as 1999 and had trained in military camps in Iran, according to the Azeri statement obtained by AFP.

The arrest comes on the heels of other allegedly Iranian-backed plots against Israeli officials in Thailand, Georgia and India.  The Iranian government has denied any involvement in those incidents. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb062012

US Embassy in Syria Closed, Diplomats Evacuated

AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States has whisked its remaining diplomats out of Syria and suspended operations at its embassy in Damascus as violence there continues to increase, U.S. officials told ABC News.

The skeletal staff, including Ambassador Robert Ford, departed quietly despite being denied exit visas by Syrian authorities in some cases, officials said.

The embassy had already pared down its staff over the past several months amid concerns about their security.  After the latest round of reductions in January, a core group of 17 staff members remained in the country. Some departed overland to Jordan while others flew out of the airport in the capital.

The shuttering of the embassy follows similar steps by other Western countries in recent weeks. A U.S. official said that talks are ongoing with Poland to serve as the American protecting power in Syria while the U.S. embassy is closed.

Monday's move comes after the Obama administration says its requests to Syrian authorities for increased security around the American embassy and its diplomats fell on deaf ears.  The embassy is situated on a busy intersection in Damascus and officials say they feared al Qaeda elements, which are believed to be behind a string of car bombs in the Syrian capital, could target Americans next. They also requested that the street the embassy is on be closed, but nothing was done.

The embassy had already been targeted by a pro-Assad mob last July after Ambassador Ford defied restrictions on his travel outside the capital and visited the restive city of Hama. Some in the crowd scaled the outer walls of the embassy and defaced the exterior, including the American flag, before being chased away by embassy guards.

The U.S. embassy, like other diplomatic facilities there, is guarded by Syrian security forces. U.S. officials say they were slow to respond and accused the government of sponsoring the protest.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan302012

Americans Barred from Leaving Egypt Seek Protection at Embassy

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CAIRO, Egypt) -- Americans barred from leaving Egypt due to their involvement in pro-democracy work have taken shelter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, it was reported Monday.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that individuals are at the embassy but no details were provided.

On Jan. 21, Sam LaHood of the International Republican Institute tried to fly out of Cairo to Doha, Qatar. He was told he would not be allowed to leave the country and later learned that at least five other Americans, along with other non-Egyptians, had been barred from leaving Egypt because of an investigation into foreign-funded democracy work.

ABC News reported on Friday that three Americans, senior managers from LaHood’s organization, are being prevented from leaving the country, as are three Americans working for the National Democratic Institute in Cairo as trainers and election observers.

LaHood, son of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, said Friday there is “no concrete reason to be optimistic at this point.” Asked whether he fears arrest, he responded that “anything’s possible.”

Sam LaHood could not be reached Monday by phone or email; it is unclear whether he or his colleagues are among those at the embassy.

Julie Hughes,  director of the National Democratic Institute, an NGO whose staffers were included in the travel ban, told ABC News Monday that none of those at the embassy work for her organization.  She declined to comment on who those at the embassy are.

Both the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute were among 17 NGOs raided at the end of last year for receiving foreign funds and working without the necessary permission from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, permission the organizations say they have been working to obtain for years from the Egyptian authorities, both during President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and from the military council that took his place last year.

The council has accused other countries of trying to destabilize Egypt. Its wide-scale investigation has targeted some 300 groups, LaHood said.

“I do think there’s something larger at work here, ” LaHood told ABC News last week. “There’s a lot of speculation about what’s behind this.”

“I find a hard time injecting logic into this situation,” he said.

The episode has brought U.S.-Egypt relations to new lows and thrown into question the $1.3 billion in funding the U.S. gives the Egyptian military each year, part of the 1979 Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt.

Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reached out to his Egyptian counterpart Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.  Panetta “asked that Field Marshal Tantawi take steps to lift the travel ban on American citizens wishing to leave Egypt, and expressed concern over restrictions placed on NGOs operating in Egypt,” the spokesman said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan202012

US Preparing to Close Its Embassy in Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is preparing to close its embassy in Syria as the security situation there continues to deteriorate, a State Department official tells ABC News.

The official said that if the Syrian government does not provide more security for the embassy, the U.S. is preparing to pull out its remaining personnel, including Ambassador Robert Ford, and to “shutter” the embassy within weeks.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has not responded to repeated requests for additional security for the embassy, which has already been the subject of attacks in the past year by pro-government mobs.

The decision was first reported by the Washington Post, which reported that the decision to shutter the embassy comes after a series of car bombs in Syria that are blamed on elements of al Qaeda.

The United States has been shaving its roster in Syria for the past several months as the security situation deteriorates. It pulled out more staff just last week, and officials say they are now down to the “bare bones.”

Ambassador Ford himself was pulled out last fall over concerns about his safety. He returned to the country in December. Ford has been targeted by pro-government groups that have thrown rocks at his convoy and once trapped him inside the office of an opposition leader. Government was slow to respond, officials said at the time.

Ambassador Ford has been one of the Assad government’s most vocal critics inside Syria. He has defied government bans on travel by diplomats and has visited several restive cities. Those visits have resulted in increased harassment of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Syria.

The United States has joined its allies in calling on Assad to step down.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov302011

Britain Withdraws Staff from Tehran; Closes Iranian Embassy in London

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Britain has withdrawn all of its staff from its embassy in Iran's capital city after the building was stormed by dozens of protesters on Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Wednesday.

Earlier, the Foreign Office said it was removing some of its diplomats "in light of yesterday’s events, and to ensure their ongoing safety."

Tuesday's ransacking came after Britain agreed to impose more sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, causing Iran's parliament to pass a bill approving reduced diplomatic relations with the U.K.

Along with the withdrawal, Hague also ordered the closing of the Iranian embassy in London, telling its diplomats they have 48 hours to leave Britain.

Diplomatic ties with Iran, however, were not cut.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov292011

Students Storm UK Embassy in Tehran

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TEHRAN) -- Local students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday in a protest that may have been incited by the one-year anniversary of the death of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari.

Several hundred students trashed two British embassy compounds on Tuesday, tearing down flags and calling for the downfall of Britain, Israel and the United States.

The attack came on the anniversary of the death of Shahriari, which the Iranian government claims was an operation conducted by Israel's Mossad and the U.K.'s MI6.

Iranian police used water cannons in an attempt to subdue the protesters. There were reports of clashes between rioters and police.

Police eventually regained control of the embassy.

President Obama said that he was “deeply disturbed by the crashing of the English embassy” in Iran and that the assault indicates that the Iranian government is not taking its international obligations seriously.

“That kind of behavior is not acceptable, and I strongly urge the Iranian government to hold those who are responsible to task,” Obama told reporters during a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands in the Oval Office.

“They have a responsibility to protect diplomatic outposts. That is a basic international obligation that all countries need to observe, and for rioters, essentially, to be able to overrun the embassy and set it on fire is an indication that the Iranian government is not taking its international obligations seriously,” the president added. “Obviously we’re deeply concerned about that situation and we expect to see some sort of definitive action sometime very quickly.”

Tuesday's attack has already drawn comparison to the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, when U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days during the Iranian Revolution.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep222011

American Flag Raised over US Embassy in Tripoli

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- The American embassy in Tripoli officially re-opened Thursday, nearly seven months after it was shuttered as fighting intensified in Libya and just hours before the Obama administration slapped sanctions on the Gadhafi regime.

U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz returned to Libya Wednesday for the first time since he left the country in January after a spat with the Libyan government when WikiLeaks released some of his cables critical of the Gadhafi government.

The U.S. embassy is working out of a temporary location after its compound was ransacked and burned by a pro-Gadhafi mob in May. Video from inside the compound showed debris littering the charred hallways of some embassy buildings.

American diplomats had been operating out of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi for several months before the capital fell under control of the rebels. The first U.S. diplomats returned to the Libyan capital earlier this month along with a team of experts and military advisers who are working to assess whether the embassy compound can be salvaged.

The United States never severed diplomatic relations with Libya when the embassy was closed in February, but did kick out any Libyan diplomats still loyal to Gadhafi.

Longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has fled the capital but has yet to be found.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep162011

US Warns Oil Companies of Al Qaeda Plan to Attack Planes in Algeria

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) The State Department said Friday that it has warned oil companies in Algeria about a plot by the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to attack their charter planes.
 
“The U.S. Embassy in Algiers received threat information and both the Embassy and the Overseas Security Advisory Council acted quickly to alert potential targets to the threat,” the department said in a paper statement.
 
The revelation is somewhat controversial because the U.S. Embassy in Algeria did not issue a public alert about the terror threat as it is required to do by law.

State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner declined to provide more specifics about the threat, but prospective attack underlines the urgency in neighboring Libya where the State Department is scrambling to find thousands of so-called MANPADs that were in Gadhafi’s weapon depots before they fall into the wrong hands. So far only a handful have been recovered, but officials caution that many weapons depots may have been destroyed in NATO attacks.
 
On Friday the TNC requested that the U.S. send more help to locate those weapons.
 
“While we and our international partners have put considerable pressure on al-Qa’ida and have degraded much of the group’s abilities, including its capacity to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region, we continue to face a significant terrorist threat from al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and its adherents.  We continue to work very closely with our key partners on the threat from international terrorism, including the role that al-Qaida continues to play.   Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.  The Government of Algeria has long been one of our strongest partners in this fight,” the State Department statement continued.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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