American killed as US consulates stormed over 'Mohamed film'

 

Cairo

Protesters angered over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Mohamed fired gunshots and burned down the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing one American, witnesses and the State Department said. In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo, and tore and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner.

Yesterday's attacks were the first such assaults on US diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak, in uprisings last year. 

The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Mohamed produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed that one State Department officer had been killed in the protest at the US consulate in Benghazi. She strongly condemned the attack and said she had called Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif "to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya."

Clinton expressed concern that the protests might spread to other countries. She said the US is working with "partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide."

"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," Clinton said in a statement released by the State Department. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."

In Benghazi, a large mob stormed the US consulate, with gunmen firing their weapons, said Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official in Benghazi. A witness said attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the facility.

Outnumbered by the crowd, Libyan security forces did little to stop them, al-Sharef said.

The crowd overwhelmed the facility and set fire to it, burning most of it and looting the contents, witnesses said.

One American was shot to death and a second was wounded in the hand, al-Sharef said. He did not give further details.

The violence at the consulate lasted for about three hours, but the situation has now quieted down, said another witness.

"I heard nearly 10 explosions and all kinds of weapons. It was a terrifying day," said the witness who refused to give his name because he feared retribution.

Hours before the Benghazi attack, hundreds of mainly ultraconservative Islamist protesters in Egypt marched to the US Embassy in downtown Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie and the US. Most of the embassy staff had left the compound earlier because of warnings of the upcoming demonstration.

"Say it, don't fear: Their ambassador must leave," the crowd chanted.

Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, and several went into the courtyard and took down the American flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that tore it apart.

The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god but God and Mohamed is his prophet." The flag, similar to the banner used by al-Qa'ida, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.

The crowd grew throughout yesterday evening, with thousands standing outside the embassy. Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls but did not stop protesters as they continued to climb and stand on the wall — though it appeared no more went into the compound.

The crowd chanted, "Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die." Some shouted, "We are all Osama," referring to al-Qa'ida leader bin Laden. Young men, some in masks, sprayed graffiti on the walls. Some grumbled that Islamist President Mohammed Morsi had not spoken out about the movie.

A group of women in black veils and robes that left only their eyes exposed chanted, "Worshippers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Mohamed alone."

By midnight, the crowd had dwindled. The US Embassy said on its Twitter account that there will be no visa services on today because of the protests.

A senior Egyptian security official at the embassy area said authorities allowed the protest because it was "peaceful." When they started climbing the walls, he said he called for more troops, denying that the protesters stormed the embassy. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The Cairo embassy is in a diplomatic area in Garden City, where the British and Italian embassies are located, only a few blocks away from Tahrir Square, the center of last year's uprising that led to the ouster of Mubarak. The US Embassy is built like a fortress, with a wall several meters (yards) high. But security has been scaled back in recent months, with several roadblocks leading to the facility removed after legal court cases by residents.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry promised in a statement to provide the necessary security for diplomatic missions and embassies and warned that "such incidents will negatively impact the image of stability in Egypt, which will have consequences on the life of its citizens."

One protester, Hossam Ahmed, said he was among those who entered the embassy compound and replaced the American flag with the black one. He said the group has now removed the black flag from the pole and laid it instead on a ladder on top of the wall.

"This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet," said another, bearded young protester, Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Egyptian police had removed the demonstrators who entered the embassy grounds.

Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

A 14-minute trailer of the movie that sparked the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Mohamed as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

The website's guidelines call for removing videos that include a threat of violence, but not those that only express opinions. YouTube's practice is not to comment on specific videos.

Sam Bacile, an American citizen who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.

"I feel sorry for the embassy. I am mad," Bacile said.

Speaking from a telephone with a California number, Bacile said he is Jewish and familiar with the region. Bacile said the film was produced in English and he doesn't know who dubbed it in Arabic. The full film has not been shown yet, he said, and he said he has declined distribution offers for now.

"My plan is to make a series of 200 hours" about the same subject, he said.

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the US known for his anti-Islam views, told The Associated Press from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.

Both depicted the film as showing how Coptic Christians are oppressed in Egypt, though it goes well beyond that to ridicule Mohamed — a reflection of their contention that Islam as a religion is inherently oppressive. 

"The main problem is I am the first one to put on the screen someone who is (portraying) Mohamed. It makes them mad," Bacile said. "But we have to open the door. After 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Mohamed."

For several days, Egyptian media have been reporting on the video, playing some excerpts from it and blaming Sadek for it, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.

Medhat Klada, a representative of Coptic Christian organizations in Europe, said Sadek's views are not representative of expatriate Copts.

"He is an extremist ... We don't go down this road. He has incited the people (in Egypt) against Copts," he said, speaking from Switzerland. "We refuse any attacks on religions because of a moral position."

But he said he was concerned about the backlash from angry Islamists, saying their protest only promotes the movie. "They don't know dialogue and they think that Islam will be offended from a movie." 

AP

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
filmEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Software Developer - Newcastle, Tyne & Wear - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer / J...

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering