State Department Issues Travel Alert Over Potential Al-Qaeda Attack

State Department
U.S. Department of State

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert that Al-Qaeda is planning an attack in the Middle East or North Africa in the month of August.

The press release, which has not yet appeared on the State Department website [Update: Here’s the alert] but is reprinted by Business Insider in full, warns,

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida 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. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.”It adds, “We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.”

CNN is reporting that some U.S. embassies in the region, including those in Egypt and Israel, will close starting on Sunday for an unspecified length of time.

As of this writing, there is no detail about the nature of the threat.

Update: August 5, 10:07 a.m.
Nineteen U.S. diplomatic posts have also been closed, at least through this week.

Posts in 19 Countries to Remain Closed

A Pre-Islamic Civilization In Saudi Arabia

Pre-Islamic Civilization, Saudi Arabia
The ancient past of one of the world’s most closed countries is beginning to be revealed.

Mada’in Saleh, about 200 miles north of Medina in northwestern Saudi Arabia, is an impressive remnant of the Nabataean civilization, the same people who built Petra in Jordan 2,000 years ago. Massive tombs carved out of cliffs tower over the desert. Some are decorated with carvings or bear ancient inscriptions dedicated to the dead who lie within. Around the tombs are the ruins of a once-thriving city at a key node of an extensive trade network.

The Nabataean Kingdom stretched from its capital Petra in what is now Jordan deep into the Arabian Peninsula. It grew wealthy from trading in incense from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean. Incense was used in religious rituals and burials and was vitally important for many cultures, including the Romans. The Nabataeans had a powerful kingdom from 168 B.C. until the Roman Empire annexed it in 106 A.D.

Mada’in Saleh was near the southern edge of Nabataean territory, perfectly poised to control the trade route. Even though it’s in the middle of a desert, there are good wells at the site and the Nabataeans managed to cultivate sizable tracts of land.

The most visible remains are the 131 rock-cut tombs with carved facades of a style similar to those in Petra 300 miles to the northwest. There are less grandiose attractions too. Here and there on the sandstone outcroppings are little niches that once held statues of pagan gods. Other stones have carved designs of animals dating from before the kingdom, back to an earlier people called the Lihyanites.

%Gallery-167884%Despite being alongside one of the main pilgrimage routes for the Hajj, the ruins of Mada’in Saleh were ignored for years by Saudi authorities who had no interest in civilizations before the advent of Islam. Now that’s changing, AFP reports. Saudi Arabia is slowly opening up to tourism and the site is drawing an increasing number of tourists. Last year Mada’in Saleh attracted 40,000 visitors and site managers want to double that figure this year. Most visitors are curious Saudis, but the country’s tourism office is encouraging foreigners to visit as well.

There are two museums on the site, although neither is about the Nabataean civilization. One is about the nearby pilgrimage route and another is dedicated to the Hejaz railway opened by the Ottomans in the early 20th century.

French archaeologists are currently excavating the site so hopefully more information about this southern outpost of the Nabataean civilization will come to light.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Sammy Six]

Video: Diving for pearls in Dubai

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the world’s finest pearls were found in the waters of the Arabian gulf. Long story short, the industry was the only that thrived in the region until oil was discovered–but the tradition is not forgotten. Starting in March, travelers to the United Arab Emirates can take part in a traditional pearl diving experience with Dubai’s Jumeirah Group. Participants will dress in traditional clothes and board a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel with a long hull design and a mast with a lateen sail. Once out in the water, guests will dive for oysters. Apparently, if guests snag an actual pearl they will be able to keep them as a souvenir of the trip. Part of the excursion will also include a typical meal of Emirati fish and rice. Watch the video above to get a feel for the entire process.

The excursion is open to anyone interested in learning more about the ancient pearling traditions (in other words, not just Jumeirah hotel guests) and will cost about 700 UAE dirhams, which is about $190. Reservations can be made through Jumeirah’s Pavillion Dive Cener.