WASHINGTON – (Reuters) – U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Pakistan, the State Department said on Thursday, in a fresh warning that follows numerous protests, demonstrations and rallies in Pakistan that U.S. officials said are likely to continue.
Officials upgraded their ongoing caution about the travel risks in Pakistan, explicitly advising Americans to put off any non-essential travel to the country. They also “strongly urged” those who are already there to avoid protests and large gatherings.
The State Department said the presence of al Qaeda, Taliban elements, and “indigenous militant sectarian groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan.”
Thursday’s warning follows a wave of anti-American demonstrations in predominantly Muslim countries, including a deadly protest in Libya last week that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The protests, which were sparked by an Internet video that mocked the Prophet Mohammad and swept through Yemen, Egypt and other countries, also prompted the U.S. government to withdraw non-essential personnel in Tunisia and Sudan.
In Pakistan, protesters demonstrated in more than a dozen cities.
State Department officials said they may restrict government personnel travel between its embassy and consulates in Pakistan for security or other reasons and that those assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted.
Additionally, they said U.S. officials in Islamabad should limit how often they travel and how long they stay in public places such as markets and restaurants.
The United States has a complicated relationship with Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally. U.S. officials have issued ongoing warnings about travel there, noting the increased possible threat to U.S. travelers since al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.
(Reporting By Susan Heavey and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Vicki Allen)