Washington: Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s intercepted conversations with his deputy in the Arabian Peninsula ordering him to carry out one of the most serious attacks since 9/11 prompted closure of several Americ n diplomatic missions in the region, a media report said today.

The intercepted message last week between Zawahri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, revealed one of the most serious plots against American and Western interests since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the New York Times reported.

“Zawahiri ordered the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday,” the paper quoted American officials as saying.

The paper said that no targets had been singled out in the talks, but that a possible attack appeared to be imminent.

The conversations of the top al-Qaeda leaders and the imminent nature of the suspected plot “help explain why the US, as well as other Western governments, took such extraordinary steps in the past few days to close embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa,” it said.

The US closed 22 missions across the Middle East on Sunday and extended the closures of 19 of them till August 10.

“This was significant because it was the big guys talking, and talking about very specific timing for an attack or attacks,” an American official, who had been briefed on the intelligence reports in recent days, was quoted as saying.

62-year-old Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician and Islamic theologian, took over al-Qaeda’s command after the killing of the group’s former chief Osama bin Laden in a covert militray operation by US Special Forces in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011. Zawahiri carries a USD 25 million reward on his head.

In recent weeks, Zawahri has elevated Wuhayshi to what one official described as the new “general manager” of the global terror network, making him the second most important man in the organisation, the paper said.

The American officials also said that it was highly unusual for senior al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan to discuss operational matters with the group’s affiliates.

“The communication between the two men seems to indicate that Zawahri — whom administration officials have portrayed as greatly diminished and hindered in running a global terror network while deep in hiding — still has a strong influence over a group in Yemen that has become Al Qaeda’s most powerful offshoot,” the NYT quoted officials as saying.

Last week, in a 15-minute audio message posted online, Zawahiri had accused the US of orchestrating former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.

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