Protests Against Anti-Islam Video Spread To Yemen

Audie Cornish speaks with Iona Craig, who is covering Yemen for The Times of London and USA Today. Craig describes the scene when protesters breached the security wall of the American Embassy in Yemen's capital. None of the protestors she spoke with actually saw the anti-Islam movie they cite as the instigating the protests.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Anger over the film has fueled not only the violent protest in Libya but also demonstrations in Cairo and in Yemen. Today in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, protesters marched on the U.S. Embassy, hurling rocks and burning cars.

For more on the day's events, we go now to Sanaa and Iona Craig, who is there reporting for the Times of London and USA Today. Welcome, Iona.

IONA CRAIG: Hi, there.

CORNISH: And to begin, can you describe the scene there today? What did you see?

CRAIG: As I arrived, the smoke was just blasting and blowing into the air of these SUVs that had been set alight inside the compound of the U.S. Embassy. And it was a very rowdy crowd chanting things such as death to America. They then proceeded to burn an American flag that they'd taken down from the embassy. And there was two other crowds that had tried to approach the embassy from two other roads as well, who were being, at that point, just about being held back by the Yemen Central Security Forces.

CORNISH: What have you learned about how this protest in particular began? I mean, did it start out peacefully? And if so, how did it turn violent?

CRAIG: It appeared so, yes. The first crowd that arrived were peaceful and were trying to sort of carry out a sit-down protest outside the embassy. But later on in the morning, more of a crowd turned up, and that's when it turned violent. All the people that I spoke to there said they were there in support of Prophet Mohammad, as a result of this film that has now caused so many problems around the region, that they see as blasphemous.

CORNISH: One question about this film. For Americans who are hearing about those or who have seen it on YouTube, you know, it's amateurish and sort of sloppy. And even calling it a film is pretty generous. I mean, it's like a 14-minute clip posted on YouTube. The idea that this speaks for America, to some here, is sort of baffling.

Now, is there the sense among Yemenis that this film doesn't speak for America as a whole or sort of - what's the discussion there?

CRAIG: Well, you have to remember this protest today was a few hundred people. So it felt it doesn't really represent the view generally around Yemen either. And certainly, other people - speaking to other people in Sanaa today - were trying to distance themselves from this violence that happened at the U.S. Embassy carried out by a small minority.

But the protesters that I spoke to today - and many of them - not one of them that I spoke to said that they've actually seen this film clip. They just heard about it. They'd heard about the reaction in Egypt and in Libya, and hence the reason they had to end up at the U.S. Embassy today.

So, yes, it's a very small, you know, members of the population here in Sanaa. There's 2 million people living in the city, and it was a few hundred people that turned up there today. And as I say, no evidence that I could find amongst them that anybody had actually seen this film.

CORNISH: So, Iona, there had been questions about security lapses in Egypt, for instance, in Libya. Can you talk about the security situation in Yemen?

CRAIG: Here, it's very complicated. The Central Security Forces, who are in charge of the security outside the U.S. Embassy here, are commanded by Yahya Saleh, the nephew of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. And there had been a lot of changes being made by the new President Abd-Rabbu Mansour, having recently to remove power from Saleh's family members within the air force and the army.

And I saw with my own eyes those security forces, they stand back and allow the protesters through the cordon and, at one stage, actually marched along with them. So it suggests that there is some collusion has gone on today, in today's events to allow those protesters to reach the embassy and carry out these attacks.

CORNISH: Iona Craig, thank you for speaking with us.

CRAIG: Thank you.

CORNISH: Iona Craig in Sanaa, Yemen, reporting for The Times of London and USA Today.

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