US and European embassies feel the full force of popular protest
Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Muhammad tore across the Middle East yesterday, with protesters attacking US embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions.
The previously obscure California-made film triggered an attack on the US consulate in Libya’s city of Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans on Tuesday, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.
In Tunis, at least five people were wounded by police gunfire near the US embassy. Protesters had earlier leapt over the compound wall.
Witnesses said Sudanese police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters to stop them approaching the US embassy outside Khartoum.
The wave of indignation and rage over the film, which portrays the prophet as a womaniser and a fool, presents US president Barack Obama with a foreign policy crisis less than two months before seeking re-election.
It also emerged that Libya had closed its airspace over Benghazi airport temporarily because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at US reconnaissance drones, after Mr Obama vowed to bring the ambassador’s killers to justice.
The closure of the airport prompted speculation that the US was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against the militants who were involved in the attack.
Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s new Islamist president, went on television and appealed to Muslims to not attack embassies, denouncing the violence earlier this week in Libya.
There were protests across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
US embassies were the main target of anger but most embassy staff were not at work because Friday is the Muslim weekend across the Arab world.
Fury over the film has been stoked by internet footage, social networks, preachers and word-of-mouth. Protesters clashed with police near the US embassy in Cairo. Two Islamist preachers in Egypt told worshippers that those who made the movie deserved to die under sharia (Islamic law) but they urged protesters not to take their anger out on diplomats or others.
Sudanese demonstrators broke into the German embassy in Khartoum and hoisted an Islamic flag, while one person was killed in protests in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
Police in the Sudanese capital fired tear gas to try to disperse 5,000 protesters who had ringed the German embassy and British mission. A witness said police stood by as a crowd forced its way into Germany’s mission. They smashed windows, cameras and furniture in the building and then started a fire.
Staff at Germany’s embassy were safe “for the moment”, foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin. He also told Khartoum’s envoy to Berlin that Sudan must protect diplomatic missions on its soil.
The largest single protests were in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Islamist group Hamas, with at least 30,000 Palestinians staging rallies across the coastal territory.
Protesters in Afghanistan set fire to an effigy of Mr Obama and burned a US flag after prayers in Nangarhar province.
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