The continued closure of embassies and the travel alerts across the Middle East was apparently prompted not by a simple conversation between two top al-Qaeda leaders, but by an intercepted conference call between top leadership and affiliates across the region. That's been followed by a noticeable uptick in drone strikes over the past few days.
The U.S. and Britain evacuated their embassies in Yemen yesterday and urged nationals to leave the country as soon as possible over their fears of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. It had previously been reported that U.S. intelligence picked up a conversation between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, his top counterpart in Yemen, discussing Zawahiri's wish to see a terrorist attack launched from the region.
But apparently the intelligence that was intercepted was much more than that. "This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom," an intelligence source told The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin and Eli Lake. U.S. intelligence intercepted a major conference call between up to 20 al-Qaeda affiliates across the Middle East during which Zawahiri promoted Wuhayushi to a "general manager" position, giving him control over most of the group's smaller operations in the region. The top al-Qaeda leaders said teams were already in place for an attack, though they were vague when discussing the target, which prompted the swift and wide-ranging response from the U.S.
In the wake of the attacks, the drone operation in Yemen has also been taken up a notch. There have been five drone strikes over the last five days targeting suspected al-Qaeda operatives, breaking a seven week stretch of drone silence in the area. The BBC also reports that Yemeni officials claim to have broken up an al-Qaeda plot to take over the country's oil pipelines. Whether or not that was the attack U.S. officials have been planning against is unclear.