Citing recent attacks, the United States on Wednesday announced that it has suspended public services at its embassy in Sanaa, Yemen.
"Due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen, we have temporarily suspended operations of our Embassy in Sana'a to the public," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We continue to evaluate the security situation every day, and we will reopen the embassy to the public once it is deemed appropriate."
She described the move as a "precautionary step."
The temporary suspension of operations is due to a reemergence of a threat from several weeks ago that the United States thought it had disrupted, according to a U.S. official with specific understanding of the current situation.
A credible threat to the U.S. Embassy emerged around March, the official said, in the same time frame that a video appeared showing some 100 al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, including several who had broken out of jail the month before.
The United States thought that threat had been disrupted by a number of Yemeni actions, including, but not directly related to a series of U.S. drone strikes and Yemeni military operations in early April.
But in recent days, the threat stream has reemerged, the official said. It is currently assessed to be credible and somewhat specific in terms of the embassy being the target, according to the source.
The United States is still attempting to corroborate the threat and determine whether there is a specific time and date, as well as any other specific locations.
A second U.S. official said the suspension of the embassy activity was based on credible information about threats to Western interests. The senior official was not sure whether the threat was embassy-specific. There have been no evacuations of the embassy.
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Across the Middle East protests have occurring in areas like Yemen and Egypt where demonstrators have been scaling embassy walls trying to gain access to interior parts of the compounds. The demonstrations come after a film produced in the United States depicting Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer was released online.
Fmr. U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns says the recent protests are “a time of testing” for the United States. “What we appear to be seeing in Egypt, in Libya and in Yemen are relatively moderate governments who are under some challenge for more conservative... reactionary forces in their own society.” Burns adds that the government forces in these areas are trying “to maintain their position, fend off conservative forces and unfortunately the United States has ended up in the middle of it.”
Some House conservatives are calling for foreign aid to be stripped from Libya and Egypt, while others are considering the message pulling aid might send to the region after the death of a U.S. Ambassador. Burns says, “The United States absolutely has reason to be outraged at what happened to our ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya….I actually think rather than to withdraw the aid right now, our focus should be on getting these Arab leaders to stand up, be accountable in their own societies and be responsible for law and order.”
CNN's Elise Labott shares the latest response from the Yemeni Embassy in Washington condemning any attacks on the U.S. facilities located in Sana'a.
The statement says, “The government in Yemen will honor its diplomatic obligations to insure safety of the U.S. personal and facilities and all responsibilities of the host government.”
“This is not Egypt or Libya,” says Labott. “This is certainly seen by the Unites States as a country that has the security situation pretty much in hand…The United States feels that the Yemenis will be able to protect them.”
In Yemen, police have been driving out protestors who breached a security wall on Thursday at the American Embassy. CNN’s Barbara Starr says “Its not miles. It’s a short walking distance” from the main gate to vital parts of the compound. Starr adds, however that “everything within that compound is fortified and has layers of security around it.”
With rapid videos of protests appearing online Starr questions the impact of social media on other possible protestors around the world. “As these pictures are seen around the world, what will be the reaction in other countries? Will it spark other protests? Will this give people who want to cause trouble that momentum to get involved in protests perhaps against U.S. installations? These things have a very…real way of growing through the social media.”
– CNN's Barbara Starr reports
Demonstrators who breached a security wall on Thursday at the American Embassy in Yemen represent the latest addition to protests happening across the Middle East. On Tuesday an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other consular officials. Riot police in Egypt continued firing warning shots and tear gas early Thursday outside their U.S. Embassy in Cairo to keep of protesters back from the compound walls. The protests are unified over the online release of a film produced in the United States that denigrates Prophet Mohammed.
“The security forces don’t want this to escalate,” says Hakim Almasmari – a reporter stationed in Yemen, outside the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a.
Almasmari adds, “They are trying to do this as peaceful as possible…[Yemen security forces] know that if blood falls on the ground, this will only get worse. They are trying to use batons that’s needed. But as of now it has not gotten violent. And if it does, it will only be for the worse. And Yemen knows that if one is killed in this protest it could escalate…that is why they are using batons and a lot of wisdom in dealing with these protesters, though in the past many of the protestors at this place were violent over the last year or so.”
Almasmari goes on to say that all of the protestors’ anger are “linked to this video and nothing else.” “[Protestors] know that that video is the beginning of what could be a long-term movie war… They believe anything against the Prophet Mohammad should not be taken lightly… I'm pretty sure this will not get violent. Most of the Yemeni protesters are unarmed. As of now, they have no weapons…This is only to express anger and if security forces deal with it wisely, it will not get violent and in an hour or so it will come to an end.”