U.S. officials pried open the doors of the Chinese consulate in Houston on Friday and took over the building shortly after Chinese officials vacated the facility on orders from the Trump Administration.
Forty minutes after the 4 p.m. eviction deadline passed, U.S. officials broke into a back door of the consulate and a man believed to be a State Department official led the way of the U.S. takeover, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Photographs show federal officials and a locksmith trying to force their way into the vacated Consulate General of China. U.S. officials had tried three other entrances but couldn’t get in. Security teams donning U.S. State Department emblems on their shirts stood guard. The Houston Chronicle reported that the local fire department entered the building, too.
Tuesday night, hours after the Trump Administration announced its directive for the Chinese to vacate, the Houston Fire Department responded to fires at the courtyard of the building — an apparent effort to destroy documents. Chinese officials refused to allow the first responders to enter to put out the fires, Fox 26 in Houston reported.
All morning Friday, consulate workers were spotted loading up two U-haul trucks and vehicles and tossing trash bags into a nearby Dumpster in an attempt to meet the U.S.’s 4 p.m. eviction deadline, the Chronicle reported.
“We can confirm that the PRC Consulate General in Houston is closed,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News.
The U.S. alleged that the consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called the Houston complex “a hub of spying and IP theft.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the consulate was a “massive spy center [and] forcing it to close is long overdue.”
U.S. officials were spotted packing up and moving out of the Chengdu consulate Saturday as thousands of people gathered to watch the Americans forced to exit on Beijing’s orders.
The South China Morning Post reported that three trucks and a bus were seen entering and leaving the U.S. compound while other workers left on foot with the arms full of boxes and files. Reuters reported the American consulate emblem was taken down and security was tight outside the facility for the moveout in the tit-for-tat consulate closures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.