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.
Witnesses said Yemeni security forces were trying to disperse a crowd at the fortified embassy compound in the east of Sana, the capital.
Protesters broke into the compound surrounding the embassy and set fire to a building but were forced to retreat after trying to plunder furniture and computers, the witnesses said,
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.
With American Marines and naval vessels heading for Libya, where the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff were killed on Tuesday in an attack on the United States consulate, and new crowds reported gathering in Tunis and Cairo overnight, the reports from Yemen added to the already volatile mix of passions that have commingled with the initial exuberance of the so-called Arab Spring.
A Reuters dispatch from Dubai quoted witnesses as saying demonstrators smashed windows of security offices outside the embassy before breaking through the main gate. Security guards opened fire and there were reports of casualties on both sides but no details were immediately available, Reuters said.
In an attempt to defuse the passions in his own country, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, was quoted on Thursday as saying the attacks on American personnel were unacceptable. Speaking in a television address while visiting Brussels, the Egyptian leader said he supported peaceful demonstrations but rejected attacks on personnel and diplomatic missions.
“What happened is unacceptable, rejected. The Prophet Muhammad taught us to respect human life,” Bloomberg News quoted Mr. Morsi as saying. But he also warned against maligning Islam’s founding prophet. “The Prophet Muhammad and Islamic sanctities are red lines for all of us,” he said.
The initial eruption of protests in Egypt and Libya came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Referring to the killings in Benghazi, American and European officials said on Wednesday that while many details about the attack remained unclear, the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning. But the officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the attack was related to the Sept. 11 commemoration.
On that same day in Yemen this week, a car bomb exploded on Tuesday alongside a convoy of vehicles used by Yemen’s defense minister, killing seven bodyguards and five civilians in the heart of the capital, while the minister escaped unharmed, government and hospital officials said. The attack came one day after a top operative of Al Qaeda in Yemen was killed in what Yemeni officials called an American drone strike.
Those episodes and the violence on Thursday spoke to the continued volatility in poverty-stricken Yemen, where the United States is seeking to eradicate militant cells held responsible for a number of conspiracies, including an attempt by an operative of Al Qaeda to detonate a bomb on a flight bound for Detroit in December 2009.
The blast on Tuesday in downtown Sana tore through a thoroughfare between the cabinet office and the state radio building, shattering buildings and wrecking a vehicle carrying the seven bodyguards, seconds after the minister himself, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, had passed by in another vehicle after a weekly cabinet meeting.