Early Tuesday morning, Jamal al-Labani was returning from Mosque prayers when the 45-year-old was hit by shrapnel in the back from a mortar shell. al-Labani is the first U.S. citizen killed in the current Yemen violence. al-Labani’s wife is pregnant and the couple have a two-year-old daughter. The family was planning to return home to California as a whole family.
After al-Labani and his family arrived in Yemen in February to visit family. The violence escalated fast all around them. After a few weeks in Aden, al-Labani watched how bad the violence was becoming and then the U.S. Embassy closed. al-Labani was concerned that his family would not be allowed to evacuate. The situation was deteriorating in the country and his family had to get out.
Two days before al-Labani was killed, he told his cousin he was going to take his family across the border to Oman and then fly to Egypt. Airports were closing and even though there was hope that things would get better, they only continued to get worse.
Yemen has struggled with political issues and violence for months. Houthi rebels, have complained for a long time that they were being marginalized in a country that is mostly Sunni. Rebels forced President Hadi out of power in January. He was put under house arrest. Then the Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa.
President Hadi escaped in February. He then fled to the south of Yemen, to Aden and is still President. However, last month, he retreated to Saudi Arabia because the rebels were coming to Aden. The violence in Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations is deepening as they fight back with airstrikes to Yemen, targeting rebels.
United States citizens are trapped and are not getting the help they need from the U.S. government, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. A spokeswoman for the council, Zahra Billoo, the council is working to help Labani’s family get home. They also are working to help other Yemeni-American families get home as well. Russia, India, Ethiopia and China have all been able to evacuate their citizens from Yemen. There is no reason why the U.S. cannot evacuate their own citizens.
The U.S. State Department has no plans to evacuate its citizens from Yemen. Instead, they are telling U.S. citizens to find a secure location and take shelter until they can get out safely. It is best to leave the country by using commercial transportation when available. There may be foreign governments that can arrange transportation as they are getting out their own citizens. This is a statement from the U.S. State Department.
Sunday, calls increased from several advocacy groups to the U.S. government pleading to evacuate citizens from Yemen. This is in reaction to the death of the California man, al-Labani. A website has been set up for Yemeni-Americans who are unable to get out of Yemen to plea for help from Washington D.C. The website is stuckinyemen.com, created by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. U.S. citizens have no viable means to escape from Yemen, which is in the middle of a civil war. The ports and airports have been taken over. Saudi Arabia instated a no-fly zone over Yemen and people cannot safely travel through neighboring countries.
StuckInYemen.com has received 100 complaints from citizens who are trapped in Yemen. America has the largest military in the world and cannot help their citizens, but smaller less developed countries have been able to evacuate their people. The U.S. government, however is saying it is impossible to rescue American citizens because it would be too dangerous.
The State Department has had advisories against travel to Yemen for a decade. Since American citizens were forewarned, the U.S. could only provide limited assistance. Trapped citizens, Yemen authorities and several advocacy groups are disappointed that the U.S. has abandoned its own.
By Jeanette Smith