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US staff quit Lahore after threat

The US State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Pakistan and evacuated non-essential government personnel from the country's second largest city Lahore because of a specific threat to the consulate there.

The move was not related to the threat of an al Qaida attack that prompted Washington to close temporarily 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa, US officials said.

The US is shifting its non-essential staff from the consulate in Lahore to the capital, Islamabad. Emergency personnel will stay in Lahore, and embassy officials do not know when the consulate will reopen.

"We received information regarding a threat to the consulate," said an embassy spokeswoman. "As a precautionary measure, we are undertaking a drawdown of all except emergency personnel."

The consulate in Lahore was already scheduled to be closed for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr from Thursday until Sunday.

Earlier this week, 19 US diplomatic outposts in 16 countries in the Middle East and Africa were closed to the public until Saturday and non-essential personnel were evacuated from the US Embassy in Yemen after intelligence officials said they had intercepted a recent message from al Qaida's top leader about plans for a major terror attack.

None of the consulates in Pakistan or the US Embassy in Islamabad were affected by the earlier closures.

On Thursday, the State Department issued a travel warning saying the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups posed a potential danger to US citizens throughout Pakistan.

The country has faced a bloody insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in recent years that has killed over 40,000 civilians and security personnel, and is also believed to be home base for al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Most of the militant attacks have been in the northwest and southwest along the border with Afghanistan.

Gunmen killed six people and wounded 15 others on Friday in an attack on a former politician outside a mosque in Quetta, the capital of southwest Baluchistan province. The man escaped unharmed. A day earlier, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 30 people at a police funeral in Quetta.

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