Why U.S. Diplomats Are Getting a Weekend Off

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Embassies are renowned as the foxes’ lairs of nations abroad. But concerned that some of its embassies could also be sitting ducks, the United States announced on Thursday the temporary shutting down of six American embassies in Africa: those in Gambia, Togo, Madagascar, Liberia, Namibia and Senegal. The State Department said the action was taken after receiving "information suggesting suspicious individuals were surveying the sites." Ever since the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last summer, "the U.S has expected something similar to happen again," says TIME diplomatic correspondent Douglas Waller. "The CIA and other intelligence agencies have been warning that it is not a question of if but when Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network will strike again."

The embassy bombings of last summer have focused attention on America’s more remote diplomatic outposts. "Africa has traditionally been the weakest point, security-wise," Waller says, and the U.S. is now being more careful. Apparently, U.S. countersurveillance teams picked up individuals casing the embassies that are now being shut down. The situation will be assessed over the weekend, the State Department said on Friday, to determine when the six facilities will be reopened. The U.S. wants to do that sooner rather than later to show terrorists that it will not be intimidated. But by shutting down the embassies, the U.S. is also hoping to send out its own signal of intimidation: We’re watching you and we know what you’re up to.