Libya arrests 4 over deadly Benghazi attack

Muslims across Mideast riot over anti-Muhammad video.

September 13, 2012 21:51
Egyptians protest at US embassy.

Egyptians protest at US embassy 390. (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)

US interests across the Middle East came under increasingly virulent attack on Thursday as Muslims reacted with outrage to a US-made film that has been deemed deeply insulting to Islam.

In Yemen and in Egypt demonstrators converged on American embassies. Protesters burned US flags from Tunisia to Bangladesh. In Iraq, large anti-American protests were held in Baghdad and Basra, and in Iran, protesters gathered in front of the Swiss Embassy, which maintains an US interests section because there has been no US embassy in Tehran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

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There were smaller protests in several other Muslim countries, and larger gatherings were expected on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer.

In Benghazi, Libya, authorities made four arrests on Thursday in connection with the killing late Tuesday night of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three staff members during a violent protest at the consulate against the film.

“Four men are in custody and we are interrogating them because they are suspected of helping instigate the events at the US Consulate,” Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis Sharif told Reuters.

Despite calls for calm from mainstream political leaders, protests against the movie grew particularly potent in Sanaa and Cairo. Hundreds of Yemenis broke through the main gate of the fortified US Embassy compound in eastern Sanaa, shouting, “We sacrifice ourselves for you, messenger of God,” Reuters reported. Earlier, they smashed windows of security offices outside the embassy and burned cars.

In Cairo, protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at a police cordon around the US Embassy. Tensions there simmered late into the day, and at least 100 people were wounded in the third straight day of protests.

The demonstrations seemed set to keep reverberating around the Islamic world, similar to the wave of global protests that ensued in 2006 when a Danish newspaper ran a series of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, leading to riots that left at least 50 people dead.

As part of an expected scramble to beef up security at US embassies and consulates worldwide, the US Navy moved two destroyers toward the Libyan coast as well as a Marine Corps anti-terrorist team, a deployment meant to give backup to any future campaign against some of the anti-US elements operating in Libya.

The intensity of popular anger across the Muslim map has taken President Barack Obama’s administration by surprise and presents a tremendous challenge to the US president’s mission, outlined in Cairo in June 2009, of mending fences with the Islamic world.

In an interview on Thursday, Obama said he didn’t think the film was what caused the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and the death of the ambassador.

“My suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start,” he told reporters.

The US Embassy in Kabul appealed to Afghanistan’s leaders to help maintain calm, and the government of President Hamid Karzai, who called the making of the film “a devilish act,” ordered the YouTube site shut down. YouTube, owned by Google Inc., said it would not remove the clip but blocked access in Egypt and Libya.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post at a small protest outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv that America had put too high a value on freedom of expression, at the expense of hurting others’ religious beliefs.

“We have always said that the Koran, the Torah, the New Testament, all the prophets, all of them are a red line which no one should cross. Everyone needs to honor and respect them. Even if I’m not a Christian, I need to honor Jesus and even Moshe Rabeinu,” he said, using the title many Jews use for Moses.

“The crazy people who did what they did in the US and those who did the same in Holland a few years ago, they are the inciters trying to set the whole Middle East on fire. I understand that law protects a man’s right of expression, but what about the honor of others?” Khatib asked.

Despite the outrageous nature of the film, he said, it did not justify the ensuing violence.

“In no way do we say that it was acceptable to attack the embassy and the ambassador, there or in any place. When an ambassador comes, he puts his trust in the country, and we should protect them the way we protect ourselves, the way I would protect any traveler.

We are underscoring our anger and outrage, but in a legal way. The most important thing to emphasize is that we’re walking in the way of Muhammad, and that means that we will not cause harm to others.”

Indeed, alongside the mobs, many other Muslims have been critical of the violence, condemning it as an unacceptable response to the film. Across social media websites, Muslims expressed disappointment that so many people fell into the “trap” set for them by the filmmakers – whoever they are.

“The sad irony of these violent protests is that they do more of an injustice to legacy of Prophet than actual film that started this does,” Samah Hadid, an Australian Muslim, wrote in her Twitter feed. Ibrahim Mothana, a writer and activist in Yemen, wrote, “Nothing more disgusting than watching small group of reckless people today hijacking the extraordinary image of Yemen’s peaceful protesters.”

Mohamed El Dahshan, a Cairo-based Egyptian writer and economist, said in an interview that he was disappointed at the predictable reaction.

“The sad reality is that too many people don’t realize that sometimes the best response is to ignore,” he said.

“The duty we have to defend faith – which I approve of – is often conflated, in their minds, to going all crazy whenever someone throws a spitball at it. Which is ridiculous.

And I strongly disapprove of. And I’m fairly sure that if he were here, Prophet Muhammad would too.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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