NBCNEWS.COM - An intercepted electronic communication in which two of al Qaeda's top world leaders agreed they "wanted to do something big" this past Sunday is what caused the U.S. government to shut nearly two dozen diplomatic posts around the world, according to intelligence sources.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's successor as the head of al Qaeda, and Nasir al-Wahisi, leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wanted to time a significant attack to a Muslim holiday known as Laylat al-Qadr, the 27th night of Ramadan and the day the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. This year the holiday, also known as the "Night of Destiny" or the "Night of Power," fell on the weekend of August 3 and 4.
The communications did not give the specific target or the method of attack. However, the most likely country of attack was thought to be Yemen, where al Qaeda does have the resources to pull off a significant attack. A third major al Qaeda operative was also a party to the communications discussing the attack, which the terrorist leaders intended to be a significant one, multiple intelligence sources told NBC News
Wahishi has become an increasingly significant player in al Qaeda's global leadership. NBC analyst Evan Kohlmann said there have been reports that Zawahiri may have officially appointed al-Wahishi his number two, making him deputy commander of al Qaeda's central leadership.
The third al Qaeda leader expressed the desire to blow himself up in an attack, something he had not been allowed to do in the past. The State Department has extended the closure of nearly dozen embassies in North Africa and the Middle East through the weekend and perhaps longer because of the possibility of attack. Several other European countries, including France and Great Britain, also closed diplomatic posts in the region, although not in the sweeping manner the U.S. opted for.