Oakland man killed in Yemen violence while visiting wife, young daughter – San Jose Mercury News
An Oakland man who had traveled to Yemen to visit his wife and young daughter, who were caught in the nation’s ongoing slide into chaotic violence, became the first American killed in the recent strife when rebels attacked the city of Aden this week, his cousin said Friday.
Jamal al-Labani, who was in his 40s, was heading home after services at a mosque on Tuesday evening when he and his 14-year-old nephew were hit by mortars in a rebel attack, Labani’s cousin, Mohammed Alazzani, said. The mortars were believed to have been fired by Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have been advancing toward the southern port city. The rebels have been routing disorganized military forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled Yemen to Saudi Arabia last week.
Hadi’s resignation in January and departure last week are the culmination of several years of strife as the government faced resistance both from the Houthi rebels and al-Qaida militants.
The death came amid complaints from many Yemeni-Americans, including some Bay Area residents, that the U.S. government has abandoned Americans in the country on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. In February, officials closed the U.S. Embassy, evacuated all American personnel and issued a travel warning, but they have rebuffed calls to evacuate other Americans trapped in the country.
Alazzani said Labani was making the short walk from the mosque to the home where he was staying when the shelling began. Labani’s nephew, who is not a U.S. citizen, was also killed, Alazzani said.
“It’s a shame our government here couldn’t do anything; we aren’t asking for troops,” Alazzani said. “It’s not a very difficult situation to deal with to evacuate the people. It’s just a matter of willingness.”
Labani, who had dual citizenship, moved to the U.S. 20 years ago and Oakland 15 years ago. He was a part owner of a gas station in Oakland who traveled to Yemen about two months ago to visit his wife and young daughter, who live there, his cousin said. Labani has two other teenage children from a previous marriage living in Fresno. His current wife, who is pregnant with his fourth child, was working with the embassy in Yemen to come to America, and his daughter recently obtained U.S. citizenship, his cousin said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said at a Friday press briefing that the U.S. has had travel advisories for Yemen for about a decade but that the U.S. could only provide “limited assistance” to those trying to flee the violence.
“If they do, the U.S. can provide only limited assistance, especially now given that our embassy is closed,” acting spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “So we certainly understand the challenge. We are looking at what our options are. But you have to balance what options we have for a possible evacuation against the security situation, against what is feasible, against what kind of assets could do this, and what the risk is to those assets.”
Over the past week, the Asian Law Caucus, the Council for American-Islamic Relations and the office of San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim have called on the State Department to get trapped citizens and their families out of Yemen. India, Russia, Pakistan and China have made efforts to extract their residents, the groups said.
“Our country has the most powerful military in the world,” said Zahra Billoo of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. “We have both the military capability as well as the diplomatic capability to force a cease fire and extract residents.”
Other Bay Area residents stuck in Yemen include Mokhtar Alkanshali, who runs a Yemeni coffee farming project with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Their official position is they are doing nothing,” said Nasrina Bargzie of the Asian Law Caucus. “It’s extremely dangerous over there right now. The fact that these people are American citizens probably makes it even more dangerous for them.”
Alazzani called on the U.S. government to take action to save other Yemeni-Americans.
“We couldn’t save his life, but we have to do something. Every day you see it, it gets worse and worse,” he said.