CAIRO — The Obama administration ordered the evacuation of all but emergency U.S. government personnel, and all family members, from diplomatic missions in Tunisia and Sudan on Saturday and warned Americans not to travel to those countries.
Meanwhile, Libyan authorities have arrested at least 50 people in the wake of last week’s killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens in a mob attack in the city of Benghazi, Libya’s parliament chief said Sunday, according to CBS news.
Saturday’s evacuation order came as leaders across the Muslim world took stock of their relationship with the United States, a major provider of aid and investment, and struggled to balance it with the will of their populations. In Sudan, the State Department order came after the government in Khartoum rejected a U.S. request to send a Marine anti-terrorism unit to protect the embassy there, which came under attack by protesters Friday.
In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a statement urging more killings of U.S. diplomats, and the Yemeni parliament demanded that all foreign troops in the country be sent home, including roughly 50 U.S. Marines deployed to protect the embassy there. The U.S. military and CIA have been in Yemen for some time, in cooperation with the Yemeni government, as part of counterterrorism operations.
The decision to evacuate was the latest consequence of a week of anti-American rage across more than 20 countries in the Muslim world. The violence was kicked off by a controversial video mocking the prophet Muhammad and has left close to a dozen dead, including four Americans killed in a consulate attack in Libya. A tense calm held across the Middle East on Sunday, but the fears of continued violence lingered. Israel’s national airline, El Al, announced Sunday that it would stop flying to Cairo, citing high security and operating costs for largely empty flights, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. officials said they ordered the evacuation of the diplomatic missions in Tunisia and Sudan out of caution rather than knowledge of any specific threats. The United States does not currently have an ambassador assigned to Sudan but maintains a diplomatic presence there.
The order leaves a significantly reduced diplomatic presence in Tunisia, the country that sparked the Arab Spring last year, where additional security was also deployed to the embassy last week. A travel warning issued for Tunisia noted that the international airport was open in Tunis, the capital, “and U.S. citizens are encouraged to depart by commercial air.”
Saturday’s pullback follows the evacuation of U.S. diplomatic personnel from Libya, following the deaths of Stevens and three other State Department employees who were killed Tuesday when suspected Islamic militants fired on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi with rocket propelled grenades.
In an interview with CBS News Sunday, Mohammed al-Megaryef, president of the Libyan National Congress, said more than 50 people had been arrested following the attack.
Megaryef said “a few” of those who joined in the attack were foreigners, who had entered Libya “from different directions, some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria.”
“The others are affiliates and maybe sympathizers,” he added.
As the administration continued to reach out aggressively to its allies and partners in the region and beyond, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone Saturday with the leaders or foreign ministers of Britain, Libya, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Somalia, the State Department said.
In Egypt, after days of pressure from the United States, President Mohamed Morsi took decisive action Saturday against lingering protests near the U.S. Embassy, with police making arrests and clearing Tahrir Square of demonstrations whose cause Morsi had only days earlier endorsed. But he had to contend with continued pressure from ultraconservative Muslims and disaffected young people who had fought for days near the embassy.
Morsi had been in the middle of negotiating more than $1 billion in aid, debt forgiveness and U.S. investments when protesters, prodded by rage over the obscure anti-Islam video that was made in the United States, stormed the embassy walls and pulled down and destroyed the American flag. The assistance talks have been subsumed by the days of protests near the embassy – some of which were called for by Morsi’s own Muslim Brotherhood party.
But it is the once-repressed, ultraconservative Salafists who have proved the most complicated for Morsi to handle as he navigates his nation of 83 million people through a democratic transition that has freed citizens to be as religiously conservative and anti-American as they wish. The Salafist Nour party was one of the main sparks of the Tuesday protests in Cairo that presaged the regional conflagration, although Nour backed off when the situation turned violent and endorsed Saturday’s sweep of Tahrir.