The Innocence Protests Expose Deeper Tensions in Yemen

Anger focused on the U.S. obscures political and military problems that remain difficult to untangle in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship

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Mohammed Mohammed / Xinhua / ZUMA PRESS

Yemeni protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans and burn tires during a demonstration near the U.S. embassy in Sana‘a on Sept. 15, 2012

Yemen had no shortage of anti-Americanism on Sept. 13 when protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Sana‘a to express their anger over Innocence of Muslims, an obscure U.S.-made film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. The day before, the influential leader of Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood broadcast a sermon praising the violence of protesters in Egypt and Libya for “their denunciation of the film categorically.” Abdul Majid al-Zindani, who was labeled a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004, exhorted followers to “support your Prophet and declare your wrath, you Muslims, especially you the young men of the Arab revolutions.” Ahmed Dawood, who took part in the riot, told TIME he was recruited by the Zaydi Shi‘ite Houthi movement, which accuses Washington of backing Sana‘a in a six-year shelling campaign of their northern homeland, Sa‘da.

But did Yemeni government soldiers help the rioters enter the embassy in the capital? And if so, were they encouraged by higher-ups with a different agenda?

(MORE: A Who’s Who of the Innocence of Muslims Film)

“They let the protesters in,” Manaa al-Saheer, a witness to the demonstration turned riot at the U.S. embassy in Sana‘a, told TIME, describing how Yemen’s elite Central Security Forces (CSF) who were guarding the compound stood down as the raucous crowd, chanting “Death to America!” and “Victory to Islam!” approached the outer security ring on Thursday.

In the space of a few hours, the throng of mostly young men gutted or set fire to dozens of diplomatic vehicles, scrawled threatening messages across walls, looted property and bludgeoned the bulletproof windows of the embassy’s security building using steel rods and the burnished metal letters of the words American embassy, which they had wrenched from the compound’s sand-colored facade.

After a mob of young men unmoored two towering black wrought-iron gates defending the premises of the embassy itself, others hijacked an armored Chevrolet Suburban, crashing it into the concrete stairway leading to the building’s glass doors, where wide-eyed U.S. troops paced with automatic rifles in hand.

(MORE: Yemen: The Most Dangerous Domino)

Only once before has any group succeeded in infiltrating the fortress-like U.S. embassy in Sana‘a. The carefully planned attack took place in late 2008, when al-Qaeda militants disguised as policemen besieged the compound with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and a series of car bombs. Still, they were unable to penetrate the embassy’s inner security ring, which a few hundred mostly young men managed to ransack on Thursday. The embassy’s post-2008 security reinforcements have made it one of the most fortified buildings in the country.

A CSF officer patrolling the embassy a day after the siege told TIME, “We were overwhelmed by the protesters, that’s how they got in.”

That statement puzzled Ibrahim Mothana, a 23-year-old activist who took part in last year’s Yemeni Spring. He recalled CSF units containing thousands of demonstrators on a daily basis simply by firing their guns in the air, the tactic that soldiers ultimately used to disperse protesters on Thursday afternoon after an hour of rioting.

It would be naive to think that Thursday’s infiltration and wholesale destruction of one of the most, if not the most, highly secured buildings in the country was the product of a few hundred angry protesters. A fuller explanation seems to lie in the capital’s tense environment, where rival elites are jockeying for power in an uncertain political landscape.

(MORE: The Making of Innocence of Muslims: One Actor’s Story)

The peaceful Arab Spring–inspired uprisings of 2011 that unseated 33-year President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a longtime U.S. ally, have entered a state of limbo. With the arrival of interim President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the adrenaline-fueled days of revolt in the streets against an iron-fisted authoritarian are fading, and the doldrums of poverty and unpredictability that prevailed in the run-up to the Yemeni Spring appear to have returned.

Hadi is charged with restructuring a deeply corrupt military and unifying Yemen’s factionalized territory ahead of multiparty elections in 2014. Yet while the President has won key battles in his bid to dismantle Saleh’s state-run empire of personal patronage, the changes are coming painfully slowly and their impacts are difficult to gauge. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Saleh, having been granted blanket immunity by the international community from any crimes he may have committed during the uprising against him, today leads the country’s ruling party and still wields great influence behind the scenes through his extensive network of family members and allies who owe their top government and military positions to the former President.

In this volatile state of limbo — where President Hadi has made some progress but is nowhere near the light at the end of the tunnel, and where his opponents are starting to fear that the end of their appointments may be nearing — tension abounds.

(PHOTOS: Protests Rage in Middle East, Sparked by Mysterious Anti-Islamic Film)

Hadi’s first two rounds of presidential decrees have succeeded in siphoning Saleh’s military influence but have faced violent consequences. In March, when the President relieved Saleh’s half-brother, Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, of his post as commander of the air force, the commander encircled Sana‘a’s international airport with a posse of armed thugs threatening to shoot down planes in protest of his dismissal. Five months later, Hadi targeted the Republican Guard, stripping seven brigades from its commander, Saleh’s eldest son Ahmed, and incorporating three of them into his newly established Presidential Protective Forces. Days later, hundreds of Republican Guards besieged the Defense Ministry in Sana‘a while Hadi was away in Saudi Arabia, triggering a shootout with government forces that killed three.

On the eve of the U.S. embassy attack, the President dismissed stalwart Saleh loyalist Major General Ali al-Anesi from his powerful posts as director of the Presidential Office and chairman of the National Security Bureau, as well as sacked four pro-Saleh governors across the country.

The following morning, CSF forces under the command of Saleh’s nephew Yahya were pictured at a checkpoint outside the embassy signaling the mob of angry protesters to enter the premises. Video footage of the waning moments of the embassy attack showed exhilarated rioters embracing a CSF soldier before sprinting out of the compound.

MORE: Anti-Muhammad Film at Heart of Violence

25 comments
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Daniel Imbellino
Daniel Imbellino

Anti-American protests for what? What did I do to them? Nothing! The muslims protesting us are protesting against Americans who do not share the views of the films creator. While I do not believe in islam, I am respectful of others beliefs. But, to murder innocent people and condemn an entire country over one persons beliefs shows just how ignorant these people are.  The muslims who are protesting are just as ignorant as the films creator himself. If you don't like being hated against, then don't do it yourself. Its all a matter of stupidity, NOT anti Americanism. People always will use religion as a reason to justify violence toward others. Exactly the reason why I share no beliefs of any religion.

Phoenix31756
Phoenix31756

The actions of just 1 idiot, may have far reaching escalating effects of millions of others ! 

Someone should locate that idiot and send him to wherever the Muslims wish to preform the HANGING ! 

TimeMagaz
TimeMagaz

From Hollywood:

Now muslims do finance to make the video to wash their violent islam from terrorism and the jihads their wrongs they made to legalize their crimes for islamic ego from the static islamic words from one dead prophet from the past primitive lives who had gone with his responsibility to change islam that will be muslims responsibility from generation to generation to change islam.  

Aldo1887
Aldo1887

This attack was carefully planned and executed, it had no more to do with some idiot movie than as a cover for an attack.

TimeMagaz
TimeMagaz

From Hollywood:

Now muslims do finance to make the video to wash their violent islam from terrorism and the jihads their wrongs they made to legalize their crimes for islamic ego from the static islamic words from one dead prophet from the past primitive lives who had gone with his responsibility to change islam that will be muslims responsibility from generation to generation to change islam.

NStat
NStat

I dont understand how anyone breaching the outside walls of the embassy isnt shot

ISPIG
ISPIG

I am a Chinese , I think US should cut all the aid to the Islam country, The islam country and Islamist are rubbish and pig, they will never know your good will.  Why waste so many money to those animal.?

ISPIG
ISPIG

I am a Chinese , I think US should cut all the aid to the Islam country, All the Islam country and Islamist are rubbish and pig, why the US want to waste so many money to those animal?

s1ck_t1r3d
s1ck_t1r3d

If I read it correctly, while all these demonstrations are going on, the US continues to send money/equipment/supplies of all kinds to the demonstrating countries. Why?

I've always approved the US government's practice of helping out where and when the action can and will improve the lives of the people of those countries ... but, c'mon... when, as it appears in this case, the foreign governments themselves are helping the destroying demonstrators, all the while accepting the handouts, something is wrong.

One country can not buy peace for another.

Stop the money and let the fools revert back to the stone age and start over again...

rory2012
rory2012

 You are right there money can't buy everything,so I just wonder when USA is going to learn.

Gartenschlauch
Gartenschlauch

The new tunesian president has admitted today that the attacks were PREPLANNED (The US ambassodor to the UN is still behind these facts). So you should stop mentioning the silly film but just remember the date: 9/11.

Al Quaida would always have found a reason to attack. There are certainly hundreds of videos on youtube that they could have singled out as "unislamic". To appease al Quaida there is only one way: submission (exactly what islam means as a word)

deborahlaws09
deborahlaws09

Why is his person holding up peace signs with his hands  ?Burning up buildings and killing people isn't a peaceful demonstration  ..Islam is a religion of  peace not destruction . Apparently this has nothing to do with  a  violation of their religion . Nothing justifies murder .

Plumbline
Plumbline

Romans 5:8........

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Maaq
Maaq

We all should try to avoid clash between religions and civilizations.

Aldo1887
Aldo1887

 Religion IS civilization, welcome to thousands of years of history.

Try to understand that secular nations are only the norm for certain cultures. Sharia is law, is religion, is culture, is all tied up into a giant messy bundle for these backwards folk.

Not everyone looks at the world in a "western" way, until we understand that, and take that into our considerations, this kind of thing is inevitable. These people are snakes, we should expect to be bit at all times, wear protective garb, and carry a big stick, and USE the stick instead try to buy favors.

AlexanderGalt
AlexanderGalt

The Mohammad film that caused all the trouble may be viewed here:

http://john-moloney.blogspot.c...

Armand Winter
Armand Winter

 It was made by the same Muslim haters that made 2016: Obama's America

Mary Waterton
Mary Waterton

That is a LIE. They are two distinctly different people not even remotely connected by politics or religion. One is a Jewish-American, the other an Indian-American. Don't abuse the First Amendment by lying and don't speak until you are sure of your facts.

catsgee
catsgee

I really think it's unnecessary to view trash. We have enough problems without someone keeping things stirred up by offers to view the video .  Keep in mind that four people have died, and if this video had anything at all to do with their deaths, it should be trashed.

ConstantJones
ConstantJones

The religion which is the topic of the movie is responsible for 100-200 million deaths. Should it be trashd?

catsgee
catsgee

No, Islam, or for that matter Christianity should not be trashed. I was implyng that the  video clip should be  trashed, and with good reason. We live in volatile times, and it appears, and I  believe I and many others think the same way on this, that the video was released at that particular time for the sole purpose of ignitng the  riots we have seen.

It is true that our government knew the protests were expected, after all, it was the anniversary of 9/11, but the level of violence was fueled by the shoing of the movie on YouTube.

 I can play the devils advocate and go on to say  that Muslims used it as an excuse to further  escalate the violence, and that is probbly true. I just cannot imagine what kind of moron would want to do what that guy did, knowing what the outcome was.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

No thanks.

Armand Winter
Armand Winter

 @DanAtlanta:disqus

Why do the Evangelicals want to put an anti-christ into the white house?

The mormons claim to be Jews... every one is a Jew in happy mormon theology, Mormons descended from Ephraim, Native Americans from Manasseh, everybody except maybe black people.

I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan. - Revelations 2:9