US intelligence has discovered that a shadowy group within Turkey is plotting an attack targeting the US embassy or other places US citizens might stay, prompting the State Department to keep the embassy closed to the public - at least for the time being.
The embassy advised US citizens traveling in Turkey to avoid crowds and the embassy building and to be cognizant of their surroundings when visiting popular tourist sites and other crowded places. The embassy has beefed up security, and canceled Visa interviews and other routine services.
Some more details:
Starting March 5, the Embassy will provide "only emergency services," the Monday announcement said. Routine actives, including visa interviews will not be held during the period of restrictions. The notice also advised US citizens in Turkey should avoid large crowds, keep a low profile and otherwise be cautious.
The announcement of the closure coincided with the Turkish state news agency Anadolu reporting the arrests of a dozen people in Ankara following an investigation into suspected jihadists. In addition to the 12 people arrested, warrants were issued for eight more people.
It was not immediately clear whether the arrests were connected to the closure of the embassy. The Anadolu report was published hours after the US announcement.
For a few days last month, it appeared that a dispute between the two NATO allies in Syria might boil into an all-out proxy war, as Ankara ordered ground troops into the Afrin border region to combat Syrian Kurdish militias. These militias played the role of ground troops for the US-led coalition during the siege of Raqqa, the former Syrian stronghold of Islamic State. Washington continues to support the Syrian Kurds, although it has pledged to stop arming them in an effort to placate Turkey.
Turkish officials have warned that any US troops bearing weapons and fighting alongside the Kurds in the region would be considered "our target."
Meanwhile, Turkey has continued to target Kurdish militias - whom it considers terrorists - and other pro-regime forces in the northern Syria region. One recent strike killed at least 36 pro-Syrian government troops.
In doing so, Turkey has seemingly managed to do the impossible - unite the Kurds and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in their fight against what the Syrian government decried as a "blatant attack" on its sovereignty by a neighbor. Meanwhile, eight Turkish soldiers were killed and another 13 were injured on Thursday in fighting in Afrin, per the BBC.
The embassy closure is reminiscent of a tit-for-tat diplomatic shutdown late last year that started when Turkey arrested local employees working at the US embassy. The US suspended all visa-processing services in response, while Syria did the same.
It's unclear whether Ankara is planning another proportional response.