Embassy Protests Spread To Yemen

A third American Embassy in the Middle East has become the focus of violent protests:

SANA, Yemen — Turmoil in the Arab world linked to a contentious video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad spread on Thursday to Yemen, where hundreds of protesters stormed the United States Embassy, two days after assailants killed the American ambassador in Libya and crowds tried to overrun the embassy compound in Cairo.

News reports also spoke of a separate protest in Tehran, where around 500 Iranians chanting “Death to America” tried to converge on the Swiss Embassy, which handles United States interests in the absence of formal diplomatic relations with Washington. Hundreds of police officers held the crowds back from the diplomatic compound, which Swiss officials had evacuated as a precaution, Agence France-Presse said.

For a third straight day, protesters scuffled with police in Cairo, news reports said, while in Iraq, a militant Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, once known for its violent attacks on Americans and other Westerners, said the video “will put all American interests in danger.”

In Sana, witnesses said Yemeni security forces had tried to disperse a crowd at the fortified embassy compound in the east of Sana, the capital. But protesters broke through an outer perimeter protecting the embassy, clambering over a high wall and setting fire to a building.

They were forced to retreat after trying to plunder furniture and computers, the witnesses said.

Security forces guarding the embassy fired into the air as protesters set fire to two vehicles and burned tires. Protesters tore down and burned an American flag, replacing it with their own banner proclaiming the Islamic faith, witnesses said.

There were no immediate reports of American casualties or that the protesters had managed to breach the main diplomatic buildings within the compound. Yemeni officials said an unspecified number of protesters were wounded and some were arrested. Hours after the attack started, smoke still rose from the area.

By early afternoon, one witness, Yahya Yousef, who lives opposite the embassy, said: “Now almost everyone is out, and firing has ceased. We saw protesters getting out with some stuff from inside.”

The protests came hours after a Muslim cleric, Abdul Majid al- Zandani, urged followers to emulate the protests in Libya and Egypt, Sana residents said. Mr. Zandani, a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden, was named a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.

The crowd gathered a day after the embassy warned Americans in a posting on its Web site that “in the wake of recent events in Libya and Egypt, there is the possibility of protests in Yemen, and specifically in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy, in the coming days.”

“The U.S. Embassy continues to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid large gatherings. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens in Yemen are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly,” the Web posting said.

There is some concern from other sources that tomorrow could be a problematic day in other parts of the Middle East, with possibly protests elsewhere after Friday prayers.  Indeed, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has blocked YouTube access in the country in an effort to lessen the possibility of protests in that country. I’m not sure that’s going to prevent hot heads from inciting crowds to violence, though.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    I am now rethinking my view that it was obvious that the makers of inflammatory anti-Islamic videos deserve First Amendment protection. In a platonic world, it makes sense when Law professors talk about the cure for bads speech is more speech: but in the real world Middle East , people think that the cure for bad speech is to form mobs, riot and kill people unrelated to the makers of bad speech. The Widows and orphans of those people aren’t comforted by those Lockean arguments.
    Bad thoughts are entering my head. I’m thinking of Jones , ” Will no one rid us of this cursed priest?” and wondering whether it can’t be arranged for him to “accidentally” fall out of a tall building. Also, too, “The making and distribution of inflammatory anti-Islamic videos constitute a clear and present danger to US personnel and interests in the Middle East.” Discuss.

  2. Buzz Buzz says:

    If only Mitt Romney hadn’t completely fucked up America’s standing in the entire Middle East with his gratuitous drone attacks, his unilateral Congress-bypassing wars kinetic military actions, his imperial demands that leaders of other sovereign nations step down, and his incessant spiking-the-football braggadocio about how he killed bin Laden.

    Damn you Mitt Romney!!! Why did you work so hard to make them hate us?

    To be safe, we should immediately pass some blasphemy laws to prevent American citizens from abusing their so-called “free speech” “rights” by saying anything negative about Islam or Muslims. This way if any Muslims anywhere in the world do anything bad at any time, we can find some Americans to hold accountable and criminally punish them for instigating it.

  3. @stonetools:

    So what happens when other groups decide to become more violent so they can extort the same sort of speech restrictions out of us?

  4. Brett says:

    It sounds like all the ultra-conservative, anti-American Islamic groups are taking the chance to carry out protests, with other people taking the chance to loot what they can once the protests turn into mobs*. Neither of the protests sound that large – “hundreds of protestors”.

    * With the Iranian protests, it’s always hard to tell whether they’re legitimate anti-American protests or just being staged by the Basij militia.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I think the Obama administration, and the previous administrations in similar situations, have done a poor job of communicating with the Islamic world.

    We need to be more clear — we, as a nation, support free speech, even when that speech is offensive, blasphemous, or criticizes the government. We even support free speech in the case of hate mongers, who produce disgusting, offensive videos such as this one. By the way, YouTube also has lots of videos of cats doing silly things.

    Much of the world doesn’t have free speech, and they assume that if the US government doesn’t censor it, then the US is condoning it and even approving of it. We need to use these situations to educate, or we can expect this to happen again and again.