Local air travel unaffected by worldwide terror alert

Published Aug. 5, 2013

TAMPA — A worldwide terror alert from the U.S. State Department has not affected local air travel, airport officials said Monday.

The alert, issued Friday, prompted the closure of U.S. diplomatic posts in 19 cities and led to heightened security at airports and other public transportation systems.

But locally, any enhanced security measures remained invisible to the public eye, said Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Christine Osborn.

"Everything is running very smoothly with no reported inconveniences," she said. "Passengers should not expect any delays."

At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, operations are proceeding as usual, said deputy director Tom Jewsbury.

"At this time, we have not received any additional guidance from the TSA as to any additional security measures," he said.

The State Department noted that the threat may remain until the end of August.

"These alerts do come down pretty frequently," Osborn said. "There may be other security measures going on behind the scenes that the public is unaware of."

Diplomatic facilities will remain closed in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other countries, through Saturday, Aug. 10. The State Department announcement Sunday added closures of four African sites, in Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and Mauritius.

The U.S. also decided to reopen some posts on Monday, including those in Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad.

The Obama administration announced Friday that the posts would be closed over the weekend and the State Department announced a global travel alert, warning that al-Qaida or its allies might target either U.S. government or private American interests.

The intercepted intelligence foreshadowing an attack on U.S. or Western interests is evidence of one of the gravest threats to the United States since 9/11, according to several lawmakers who made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows.

"This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years," Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. "Chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that's going on — very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11."

Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it was that chatter that prompted the Obama administration to order the Sunday closure of 22 embassies and consulates and issue the travel warning.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC's This Week that the threat intercepted from "high-level people in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" was about a "major attack."

Yemen is home to al-Qaida's most dangerous affiliate, blamed for several notable terrorist plots on the United States. They include the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and the explosives-laden parcels intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

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Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, told ABC that the threat "was specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also that certain dates were given."

Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.