Lahore/Washington, Aug 9: The US today evacuated all non-emergency staff from its consulate in Lahore, citing a specific terror threat against the facility even as it issued a fresh travel advisory to Americans warning against visiting Pakistan.
The move comes amid a worldwide alert over al-Qaeda intercepts.
“Today, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency US Government personnel from our Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan.
“We are undertaking this drawdown due to concerns about credible threat information specific to the US Consulate in Lahore,” a senior State Department official in Washington told PTI.
A Pakistani official of the US consulate in Lahore told PTI that the local staff would receive instructions from the officials concerned about joining the duty after Eid holidays ending on Sunday.
“We are not told about the closure of the consulate. The local staff may resume duty next week,” he said.
The US diplomats in Lahore have been moved to Islamabad. Meanwhile, Lahore police issued a terror alert in the wake of Quetta blast at a police residential compound that killed 30 policemen including senior officials yesterday.
“There has been a threat from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and its allied groups especially on forces and foreigners,” a senior police official told PTI.
“We are coordinating with other agencies to thwart terrorists' plans during Eid days,” he said.
The State Department is taking appropriate steps to protect its employees and others who may be visiting its facilities, a US official said on condition of anonymity as the US issued an updated travel warning for Pakistan.
Noting that the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups pose a potential danger to US citizens throughout Pakistan, the travel advisory asked them to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan.
US citizens remaining in Lahore despite the travel warning previously in effect should limit non-essential travel within the country, be aware of their surroundings whether in their residences or moving about, make their own contingency emergency plans, enrol their presence in Pakistan through the Smart Traveller Enrolment Program (STEP), the Senior State Department Official said.
According to the travel warning, across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.
“Attacks have included armed assaults on heavily guarded sites, including Pakistani military installations. The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities,” the travel warning said.
“Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where US citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit. Terrorists and criminal groups regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom,” it said.
Most of al Qaeda's core leadership is believed to reside in Pakistan, and the city of Lahore is home to other extremists sympathetic to the group.
Lahore is well-known as a base for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.