x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

US missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to remain closed

The US Department of State extends the closure period of a number of its embassies in the region due to a continuing threat from terrorism in the Middle East.

The United States embassy in Abu Dhabi will remain closed until Saturday, 10 August, amid continuing threats of terrorism in the Middle East. Sammy Dallal / The National
The United States embassy in Abu Dhabi will remain closed until Saturday, 10 August, amid continuing threats of terrorism in the Middle East. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // The United States embassy in Abu Dhabi and its consulate in Dubai are to remain closed until Saturday due to an Al Qaeda terror threat.

The country's state department has extended the closure period – first put in place for Sunday – at 19 diplomatic posts around the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

The closures are a result of the US taking the unusual step of issuing a worldwide travel alert for US citizens, which arose due to an unspecified terrorist threat, possibly from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The state department said the move was out of "an abundance of caution", not a reactionary measure to new threats.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Abu Dhabi said it would still provide "emergency American-citizen services".

"If there are any Americans in distress in the UAE, for example, we are available to help but we are closed to the general public and that includes visa services," he said.

Travellers from the Mena region looking to apply for visas for the US will now have to wait until after the Eid holidays.

A US embassy spokesman said its post in the capital and in Dubai would keep the public updated via its website and through social media, including Twitter.

Visitors to the embassy in Abu Dhabi today found the gates shut with a "closed" notice warning them away.

A 28-year-old Syrian, who asked not to be named, was among those who arrived today not knowing about the closure only to be turned away by a security guard.

He had hoped to speak to the US consul about obtaining an American visa.

The former design engineer said he had lost his job and his UAE residency and was appealing for help so he did not have to return to his home country.

"Now, I do not know what I will do," he said on learning of the closure.

Another visitor, Mahboubeh, 28, who did not want to give her surname, was hoping to get her passport and documents back from the embassy.

The Iranian, who is a US citizen, handed her passport over to UAE authorities for a random check when she arrived on holiday with her parents last week. She was told to reclaim it from the US embassy.

Mahboubeh said she would have to remain in the UAE until she got her passport back from the embassy when it reopens.

"I was told it would be another five days," she said yesterday.

The closure of the US missions follows problems at the Canadian embassy, where staff went on strike at the end of June over pay. Canadian embassies across the globe were affected and the visa section of the mission in Abu Dhabi is still on strike.

The terror threat that had initially closed 22 US embassies and consulates around the Muslim world on Sunday has been described as one of the most serious since the September 11 attacks. The US state department said an incident could occur "in the period between now and the end of August".

US diplomatic facilities will remain closed in the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other countries, until Saturday.

The US decided to reopen some posts yesterday, including those in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

The British embassy in Abu Dhabi has also extended the closure of its post in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, until after the Eid holidays.

However, its other Middle East embassies will remain open.

The British embassy's website confirmed it would remain open in the UAE "but staff have been advised to exercise extra vigilance as we approach Eid".

Canada is advising its citizens to "exercise a higher degree of caution" in the region, an official said.

UAE students with visa appointment this week at the US embassy have been given instructions to visit the embassy or consulate after August 11, between 10am and 11am. Students should bring their appointment confirmation and forms.

American citizens requiring emergency assistance in Abu Dhabi should call 02 4142200. Those in Dubai and the Northern Emirates should call 04 3094000.

jbell@thenational.ae