Protesters angry over an amateurish U.S.-made video denouncing Islam attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday, killing a State Department officer, while Egyptian demonstrators stormed over the fortified walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
CAIRO — Protesters angry over an amateurish U.S.-made video denouncing Islam attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday, killing a State Department officer, while Egyptian demonstrators stormed over the fortified walls of the U.S. Embassy here.
On the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the assaults were a violent reminder that the changes sweeping the region have hardly dispelled the rage against the United States that still smolders in pockets around the Arab world.
The mobs were set off by Egyptian media reports about a 14-minute trailer for the video, called “Innocence of Muslims,” that was released on the Web. The trailer opens with scenes of Egyptian security forces standing idle as Muslims pillage and burn the homes of Egyptian Christians.
Then it cuts to cartoonish scenes depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug.
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The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by Sam Bacile, whom The Wall Street Journal website identified as a 52-year old Israeli-American real-estate developer in California. He told the website he had raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film.
“Islam is a cancer,” Bacile was quoted as saying.
The video gained international attention when a Florida pastor began promoting it along with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as “International Judge Muhammad Day.”
In a statement Tuesday, the pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., called the film “an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam” and said it “further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad.”
He said the embassy and consulate attacks illustrated that Muslims “have no tolerance for anything outside of Muhammad” and called Islam “a total deception.”
Jones inspired deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 by first threatening to burn copies of the Quran and then burning one in his church. He also once reportedly hanged President Obama in effigy.
In Benghazi on Tuesday, protesters with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the U.S. Consulate and set it on fire, Libyan officials said. Some news reports said that U.S. guards inside the consulate had fired their weapons, and a brigade of Libyan security forces arriving on the scene had battled the attackers in the streets as well. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed late Tuesday that a State Department officer had been killed in the Benghazi attack, and she condemned the violence.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” she said. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
The death in Benghazi appears to be the first such fatality in a string of attacks and vandalism against foreign and especially Western diplomatic missions in Libya in recent months. Since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s transitional government has struggled to rebuild an effective police force, control the weapons that have flooded the streets and restore public security.
Local Islamist extremist groups capitalizing on the security vacuum have claimed responsibility for some attacks, and some reports Tuesday suggested that one such group, Ansar al-Sharia, had claimed responsibility for that day’s assault.
In Cairo, thousands of unarmed protesters had gathered outside the embassy during the day. By nightfall, some had climbed over the wall around the embassy compound and destroyed a flag hanging inside.
The vandals replaced it with a black flag with an Islamic profession of faith — “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet” — favored by ultraconservatives and extremists.
Embassy guards fired guns into the air, but a large contingent of Egyptian riot police officers on hand to protect the embassy evidently did not use their weapons against the crowd, and the protest continued, largely without violence, into the night.
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist group and the sponsor of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, urged the U.S. government Tuesday to prosecute the “madmen” behind the video, according to the English-language website of the state newspaper, Al Ahram.
The spokesman asked for a formal apology from the U.S. government and warned that events like the video were damaging Washington’s relations with the Muslim world. Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the U.S. Embassy released a statement shortly after noon that appeared to refer to Jones: “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.”