Hundreds of Yemeni demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Sanaa on Thursday in protest at a film they consider blasphemous to Islam, and security guards tried to hold them off by firing into the air, witnesses said.
Young protesters, shouting “we sacrifice ourselves for you, Messenger of God”, smashed windows of the security offices outside the embassy with stones and burned at least five cars as they broke through the main gate of the heavily fortified compound in eastern Sanaa, the witnesses said.
“We can see a fire inside the compound and security forces are firing in the air. The demonstrators are fleeing and then charging back,” one witness told Reuters.
A security source said at least 15 people were wounded, some from bullets and 12 people were arrested.
“Initial reports are that all embassy personnel are safe and accounted for,” an embassy spokesman told reporters by telephone as the clashes continued.
The attack followed Tuesday night’s storming of the United States Consulate and a safe house in Benghazi, where the US ambassador to Libya and three other staff were killed. President Barack Obama said the perpetrators would be tracked down and ordered two destroyers to the Libyan coast.
Protesters also attacked the US embassy in Egypt and there were fears demonstrations would spread to other countries in the Muslim world.
Demonstrators blamed the United States for the film depicting the Prophet Mohammad in terms seen as blasphemous by Muslims and which was condemned by Washington.
Witnesses said security forces in Yemen made no effort to stop the demonstrators as they marched towards the embassy compound. Some held banners declaring ‘God is Greatest’, while others scaled the embassy gate as tyres blazed outside.
The protesters threw stones and some smashed light bulbs and signs before attacking the security offices and the compound.
Security guards fired in the air to hold back the demonstrators before Yemeni police reinforcements arrived at the scene and used tear gas. Witnesses said dozens of youths later regrouped and tried to break into the compound from the back.
State news agency Saba said President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi condemned the attack and set up a committee to investigate, following reports security forces had failed to stop the demonstrators from reaching the compound.
Yemen, a key US ally, is struggling against multiple challenges since mass protests forced long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down last year.
The United States, eager to help Yemen recover from the upheaval that put the state on the verge of collapse, has said it would provide US$345 million in security, humanitarian and development assistance this year, over double last year’s aid.
Yemen is home of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden.