The Bay Area’s Yemeni community is calling on the American government to do more to stem the violence in their country after an Oakland man was killed amid escalating tensions in the Middle Eastern nation.
Jamal al-Labani , who lived in Oakland for about 15 years, was looking forward to bringing his new family to the Bay Area when that dream was shattered.
In a Hayward hall on Mission Boulevard Saturday, friends and family members mourned the loss of al-Labani, an American citizen who went to Yemen in February to try and bring his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter to the United States. Al-Labani has two teenage sons from a previous marriage living in Fresno.
On Tuesday, as al-Labani was trying to make it home to safety in the port town of Aden, he and a nephew were killed by shrapnel during heavy rebel tank fire, his family says.
“He had been trying to leave the country the past three weeks, and things are getting worse and worse. Airports are pretty much closed. There’s no way for him to escape,” said his cousin Mohammed Alazzani.
Al-Labani, who co-owned a Westco gas station on MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland, was known for his great smile and his kindness.
“Even his customers actually cried. You see tears in his customers," Alazzani said. "He’s really generous. Even if customers are short money, he will let them go."
Now, members of the Yemeni community in Oakland and San Francisco are worried about their relatives in their homeland.
A Saudi-led coalition wants the return of Yemen’s president, who fled the country last week. But Houthi rebels have overrun much of the country. The Council on American Islamic Relations is calling on Washington to remove U.S. citizens.
“Our big focus right now is getting Americans out of Yemen and seeking the government’s assistance to do so,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Zahra Billoo.
But the State Department says it has no plans to intervene, saying civilian lives could be at greater risk if they sent the military.
Alazzani thinks his cousin would be alive today if the U.S. had acted earlier.
"If we acted or did something last week, we could have probably saved him,” he said.
Other countries have been pulling their citizens out of Yemen. The American Red Cross on Saturday called for a 24-hour cease-fire.