Baird encourages caution for Canadian travellers and diplomats after U.S. alert

OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird encouraged Canadian travellers and diplomats in North Africa and the Middle East to exercise added caution Friday after the United States issued a major terrorism and travel alert for the region.

“It’s not for me to discuss the nature of the elevated risk that causes them (the Americans) to take these decisions,” Baird said.

“Having said that, when a close friend and ally has made this determination, obviously at a bare minimum it puts us at elevated risk, and we’re encouraging a higher degree of caution.”

Baird said Canada has no plans — yet — to close its diplomatic missions on Sunday, a regular work day in the region, as the U.S. has done.

But Baird said his deputy minister and director general of intelligence are monitoring the situation carefully in consultation with the U.S.

“Obviously in the run-up between now and Sunday, we’ll continuously review the situation and take any action that we feel that is in the best interests of Canada.”

Baird was responding to the U.S. decision Friday to issue a global travel alert, citing an al-Qaida threat.

The State Department ordered the closure 21 of embassies and consulates this weekend in the Muslim world.

It warned U.S. citizens of the potential for terrorism particularly in the region, with a possible attack occurring or coming from the Arabian Peninsula.

“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the State Department said.

The U.S. embassy closures cover an area encompassing Mauritania in West Africa to as far east as Afghanistan.

The alert warned that al-Qaida or its allies could target the U.S. government or private American interests. It cited public transportation systems and tourist sites, among other things.

Last year, the U.S. issued a major warning on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. On that day, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed when militants attacked their diplomatic in Benghazi, Libya.

Baird said that neither the United Kingdom nor Australia had followed the U.S. lead and closed its missions, but he said Canadians in the region should be mindful.

“Most fair minded Canadians, when they see what the United States are doing would want to realize things are at an elevated risk and want to ensure a higher degree of caution.”

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