Muslim- and Asian-American advocacy organizations Sunday stepped up calls for the U.S. government to evacuate American citizens from Yemen, following the death of American citizen Jamal al-Labani in the Middle Eastern country Tuesday. Al-Labani, a 45-year-old California man, is believed to have been the first American citizen killed in Yemen as attacks and airstrikes have been launched in the failed state.
A coalition of groups launched StuckInYemen.com, a website for other Yemeni-Americans stranded in the country to lodge complaints and make pleas for assistance from Washington. The website was created by the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus following al-Labani's death.
Al-Labani, who had a pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter, was trying to bring his family back to the U.S. when he was killed in a mortar strike while walking home from a mosque, his family told CNN. Two days before he was killed, al-Labani tried to get out of the country, but the U.S. consulate in Aden was closed, his cousin told the network. "The airports got closed and things got worse and worse," said the cousin, Mohammed Alazzani. "People were hoping things would get better, but they only got worse and worse."
Houthi rebels gained power in the country last month and the growing unrest has prompted evacuation efforts led by nations including China, Pakistan and India as well as the United Nations.
“The Yemen crisis, civil war, and escalation of violence in Yemen have left many Yemeni residents in great peril, including many U.S. citizens,” the groups said in a statement. “Americans are trapped in Yemen with no realistic means to get out of Yemen without assistance from the U.S. government. The airports and ports are under siege, Saudi Arabia instituted a no-fly zone over Yemen, and there is no feasible safe passage to neighboring countries.”
So far, StuckInYemen.com has received about 100 complaints from trapped American citizens in Yemen. Zahra Billoo of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Cair (Council on American-Islamic Relations) said the U.S. government was letting down Yemeni-Americans.
“We ... have the largest military in the world by far. And to see that smaller, less stable countries are able to get their citizens out, and the U.S. government is saying that it’s impossible, is difficult to believe and very disappointing,” Billoo told San Francisco Fox affiliate KTVU in a video posted Sunday to Cair’s YouTube channel. She was referring to reports that China, Russia, Somalia and India had plans to have their citizens evacuate Yemen while the U.S. said it would be too dangerous.
The U.S. closed its embassy in Yemen to the public in January. The decision was made "out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting the embassy," a statement issued by the embassy said.