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.