San Francisco man shares story of escaping war-torn Yemen

Citizens from other countries, including India and China have had help from their governments evacuating, but the U.S. has no embassy in Yemen and there is no U.S. campaign to move its citizens out of the country.

A San Francisco man who made it out of the war-torn country thanks to sheer luck, and daring, shared his story with KTVU, in the hopes that it would highlight the plight and struggles of other Yemeni-Americans trapped in the country.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco. He travels to his parents' native country of Yemen often to visit coffee farms for his business. He never expected he would be trapped there while the country was embroiled in a full-scale war.

In a photo he shared with KTVU, Alkhanshali is smiling, sitting in a motor boat, with blue skies and turquoise water in the background. It looks like he's taking a pleasure cruise, but this was no vacation for him. The photo documents part of his three-day journey out of Yemen, back to the Bay Area.

"It really feels like I was in some sort of action adventure novel," he said.

Alkhanshali owns a coffee distribution start up, called Mocha Mill. He spent the past five months in Yemen meeting with coffee farmers, through a program that had been partly sanctioned by US AID. The morning of March 27, he woke up to the sound of bombs exploding in the capital.

"It felt like Armageddon. All hell broke loose," Alkhanshali said. "I didn't know if I was going to live to see the morning. That's how bad it was."

The capital's civilian airport was destroyed by the bombing. Alkhanshali knew he could not escape to Oman, since it was a 28 hour drive through the "cold, hard, desert" away. The only way out of the country was by sea. He drove seven hours to the port city of Mocha and convinced a stranger to take him across the Red Sea to Africa.

"There it was, a small boat, 16 to 20 footer, a small 40 horse-power Yamaha engine behind it," he said. "After a few hours it started to sink in, I'm in the middle of the ocean with no navigation equipment."

He ended up in the African country of Dijbouti. From there he traveled to Kenya, then boarded a flight to Amsterdam, and later, flew from Amsterdam to San Francisco International.

"I was very fortunate, very lucky to be here. There are still thousands of Yemenis still there. My aunt is still there with her five kids, all U.S. citizens," Alkhanshali said.

"Unfortunately there is no safe way out, our government is not supporting or creating one," said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

American legal aid groups have created a website called "".

They said they've received more than 300 requests for help from U.S. citizens trying to escape.

"We wanted to centralize a place where people who were effectively abandoned by their government could seek help from civil rights groups," Billoo said.

As for Alkhanshali, he not only escaped with his life, but also two suitcases full of coffee samples.

"I brought all my samples with me. These samples have survived rockets and mortars and pirates! I'm not kidding," he said.

He says he felt he owed it to the farmers he'd worked with for the past five months to help them access some sort of economic opportunity, despite the conflict they're now living through.

Alkhanshali is going to an International Coffee Conference in Seattle, where he hopes to find buyers for his Yemeni coffee, although he knows if the conflict in the country drags on, it will be difficult to get those products out of Yemen.