TODAY   |  August 04, 2013

22 US embassies, consulates close across world over alert

The recent warnings are the first time a general alert this sweeping has been issued since the U.S. braced for retaliation after American Special Operations killed Osama bin Laden two years ago. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> we do want to begin with the latest on the terror threat. president obama is being prefd on stantly on the threat on saturday. after his top security team met.

>> that, of course, is to keep the people who work there safe. and among those embassies that are closed, the one in yemen considered to be especially high risk with al qaeda gaining a foothold there.

>> let's get the latest from chief foreign correspondent richard engel live in cairo for us this morning. richard, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, lester. diplomatic activity around the world has been severely disrupted by this series of closures. behind me is the u.s. embassy in cai cairo . it's closed today, one of many around the region that is closed because of this security threat. u.s. embassy officials have told us they are still assessing new information to determine when they can reopen. it's not a good time to be a u.s. diplomat in the muslim world today. with u.s. embassieses shuttered, 22 of them from kabul to cairo and beyond. it's the first time a general alert this sweeping has been issued since the u.s. braced for retaliation after american special operations killed osama bin laden two years ago. this time multiple sources tell nbc news the threat originates from yes, ma'men from a plot by al qaeda 's branch in the arabian peninsula . the suspected target or targets are not just american diplomats and embassies but western interests in general. we're told the threat is credible, serious, and time for now the tail end of ramadan. the target's location is believed to be in yemen but some u.s. officials worried terrorists could try to strike beyond that country and initiate add blanket catch-all response.

>> this is undoubtedly a serious threat but it should be noted in light of what happened in benghazi officialses are taking no chances whatsoever. so a similar threat seen six months ago might not have seen the level of reaction that we see today.

>> reporter: so why al qaeda in yemen ? it has a core group of skilled bomb makers and propaganda who operate in areas where the government has little authority. the group is motivated and aggressive. it's also under attack. last month one of its top leaders was killed in a drone attack. the group wants revenge but where? u.s. officials have told us that this threat is actually quite specific to yemen and some u.s. ambassadors in posts around the world are actually not pleased that the state department has taken this it draconian action. they say they need to go out doing their work. they can't be shut inside their facilities every time there is a terror threat. they recognize the need for security, but some people, including some quite senior officials at the state department , worry this might be an overreaction. lesser?

>> richard engel in cairo this