The United States has ordered the departure of non-essential government personnel and family members from posts in Sudan and Tunisia in the latest reaction to a wave of anti-American unrest in the region.
The US government also issued travel warnings to its citizens in those two countries on Saturday, urging them to depart due to security concerns after a US-made anti-Islam video triggered a violent backlash in several Islamic countries.
“Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the state department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens,” said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.
The department’s travel warning said that while Sudan’s government has taken steps to limit the activities of armed groups, some remain there and have threatened to attack Western interests. The terrorist threat level remains critical.
The state department said the airport in Tunis was open and encouraged US citizens to depart by commercial air. It said Americans in Tunisia should use extreme caution and avoid demonstrations.
Wave of protests
The warnings follow a wave of protests and violence over an anti-Muslim film that has swept across the Middle East and other Muslim countries in recent days.
An obscure, 13-minute, amateurish video made in the US called “Innocence of Muslims” that depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a pedophile sparked the outrage.
Some of the films key producers and backers were reported to be Egyptian-American Coptic Christians, one of whom, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has a criminal history and has gone into hiding.
Outrage over the film began in Egypt, where Salafist pundits stirred anger over what had been an unknown YouTube video.
Friday’s demonstrations spread to more than 20 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. While most were peaceful, marches in several places exploded into violence.
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In Sudan, crowds torched part of the German embassy and tried to storm the American embassy. Protesters climbed the walls into the US embassy in Tunis, torching cars in the parking lot, trashing the entrance building and setting fire to a gym and a neighboring American school.
The US sent an elite, 50-member Marine unit to Yemen’s capital to bolster security at the embassy there, which protesters broke into on Thursday and then tried again to assault Friday.
A similar team was dispatched to Tripoli, Libya, on Wednesday after the deadly attack the night before on the Benghazi consulate.
But the Sudanese government said Saturday it had refused to allow a similar Marine deployment to the embassy in Khartoum. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti declined the request, saying Sudan is capable of protecting diplomatic missions, the state news agency said.
Nuland said Sudan’s government “has recommitted itself both publicly and privately to continue to protect our mission”. She said the United States has requested additional security precautions.
The travel warning came as President Barack Obama paid tribute to the four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, who were killed in the armed attack in Benghazi . He also denounced the mob protests that followed.