High risk US embassy in Yemen gets Marine reinforcements as protests continue
High risk US embassy in Yemen gets Marine reinforcements as protests continue
by Jane Novak
An elite Marine rapid response team arrived in Yemen’s capital to protect the US embassy there which remains vulnerable and in disrepair following a mob attack this week.
Protests against a video clip deeply insulting to Muslims turned violent Wednesday when several hundred protesters in Sana’a breached the US embassy’s exterior parameter, burned 61 cars, looted computers and destroyed other property including the gate surrounding the compound.
View slideshow: Mob attacks US Embassy, Sanaa
The 14 minute video clip was uploaded to Youtube by a man in California two months ago. Its existence became public knowledge in Yemen following the murder of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and prompted the attack on the embassy, wide spread US flag burning and chants of “Death to America” as protests continued this week across Yemen.
News of the Marine’s deployment “enraged” Yemenis already in a heightened state of emotionalism, the Yemen Observer reported. About 50 Marines are reported to have been deployed.
Many Yemenis are unaware that the US Constitution specifically prohibits governmental infringement on religious speech and are hoping the US will arrest the film maker as could occur in a dictatorship. A substantial majority however consider the mob violence more insulting to Islam than the video.
President Abdu Mansour Hadi said in a statement that he “extends his sincere apologies to President Obama and to the people of the United States of America” for the attack.
US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, a highly controversial figure, said in a statement today that the deployment would be short lived and limited to the embassy grounds. Ambassador Feierstein said, “The only task of these individuals to provide assistance in our diplomatic facilities and protect American diplomats from violence, and is a temporary assignment…”
High Risk Embassy
The United States Embassy in Yemen is at especially high risk for a terrorist attack.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) previously attacked the US Embassy in Sana’a in September 2008 in a complex attack that killed four innocent bystanders including one Yemeni-American, as well as 10 Yemeni security personnel. AQAP is the most dangerous and active offshoot of al Qaeda.
The fanatical AQAP group was later responsible for the attempted murder of Saudi Prince Naif with the high explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) in August 2009, and the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit in December 2009, also with PETN. In October 2010, AQAP shipped toner cartridges rigged with PETN on a cargo plane headed for the US.
In Yemen, AQAP derailed the 2011 Youth Revolution and seized territory—facilitated by military commanders loyal to the former dictator, Ali Saleh. The city of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, was looted, and destroyed. It became a ghost town as residents fled the al Qaeda occupation for the relative safety of Aden. Al Qaeda was driven underground in June of this year, reappearing in cells in the capital as well as other governorates. The group left behind hundreds of land mines in Zinjibar.
The al Qaeda group in Yemen is engaged in a long running assassination campaign targeting a wide variety of Yemenis, most frequently members of the security forces and intelligence and high profile members of the Yemeni Transitional Government.
On Saturday, AQAP praised the 9/11 murder of US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, as al Qaeda retribution for the June death of terrorist leader Abu Yahya al Libi in a US drone strike in Pakistan. “The killing of Sheikh Abu Yahya only increased the enthusiasm and determination of the sons of (Libyan independence hero) Omar al-Mokhtar to take revenge upon those who attack our Prophet,” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said as quoted by the US-based monitoring group, SITE.
President Abdu Mansour Hadi said the attack on the US embassy in Sana’a was an attempt to derail his visit to Washington DC later this month. He also pointed to divisions within the security forces; loyalists and relatives of the former dictator remain in their government posts. A Youtube video shows Yemeni security officers waved protesters past a checkpoint leading to the US embassy Wednesday.
The interim president, Mr. Hadi is facing substantial challenges seven months into his term. The US sponsored transition plan for Yemen grants the former oligarchy including Ali Saleh immunity from prosecution for its decades of war crimes prior to and during Yemen’s year-long uprising demanding regime change.
Rewriting international law
The protests across Yemen may point to a deeper frustration as many of the Youth Revolutionaries believe their path to democracy was highjacked by political leaders, AQAP and the international community.
Mr. Hadi was Mr. Saleh’s Vice President and was elected in a single candidate election on February 24, 2012 as part of the transition plan endorsed by the US, Saudi Arabia and the UN Security Council and brokered by UN envoy Jamal Omar. The immunity clause represents a significant departure from established international law on crimes against humanity.
The US has rejected the revolutionaries’ continuous appeals to freeze Saleh’s US assets, and Ambassador Feierstein supports Ali Saleh’s continued political activities as head of the ruling party. Youth protesters have called for Saleh’s exile or arrest since the transition plan was announced. Protests against Mr. Feierstein’s role in the Yemeni transition garnered hundreds of thousands since the revolution began. Other protests against the US use of drones to target al Qaeda have erupted after civilian loses. An errant air strike earlier this month killed 14 civilians in a minibus, including three women and three children, the Yemeni government said.
Less well publicized than the protest at the embassy were protests last week against terrorism, assassinations and the former president’s continued disruption of the political transition. Protesters called for President Hadi to “sack the rest” of the former president’s relatives who remain in their posts.
The protest against terrorism and Saleh, which is Yemen is often the same thing, followed a spate of assassination attempts on members of the transitional government. A car bomb in Sanaa targeted Yemen’s defense minister last Tuesday killing 12, The minister was unharmed.
Across the great divide
Many Yemenis who heard about an offensive video erroneously thought it was a movie being shown in theaters, when it is a low budget 14 minute Youtube clip. A second URL on Youtube that purports to be the entire movie is the 14 minute clip looped four times.
The video was posted to Youtube two months ago and had garnered 4000 views. In the week since riots began across the Middle East, the videos received over 10 million views from across the globe.
In discussions, many Yemenis are unaware that the United States was founded by religious dissidents and minorities seeking to ensure, above all, religious freedom. Many believe Germany’s law criminalizing Holocaust denial is actually a US law.
While acknowledging the importance of a free speech in countering government corruption and in areas of art and science, others argue for an exemption in US law for insults against Islam and other “people of the book”, ignorant of the vast multiplicity of religions in America and of the US constitutional requirement of equal rights for citizens.
Some prominent religious leaders are using the offensive video and the Marines’ deployment to Sanaa to stoke fears of a US military occupation, including religious leaders who regularly engage in Taqfirism- ie, the practice of labeling other Muslims as apostates and those who call Shia Muslims “Rawafidh” or rejectionists of the true Islam.
Others like former Endowments Minster Hamoud al Hittar rejected the attack on the US embassy in Sana’s in religious terms saying, “Personnel of these missions are covenanters, whose bloods and money are forbidden and should not be attacked, and those who live in our country have nothing to do with this film.”
Suggested by the author:
US lifts Yemen arms embargo before military restructuring
Yemeni security forces open fire on The Life March
Yemen, the long march toward justice
Yemen’s counter-terror chief accused of atrocities
US, Saudi meddling drives Yemen protesters to boycott
Jane @ Examiner.com