What began as a small protest against an amateurish film mocking and maligning
the prophet Muhammad has mushroomed into a full-scale international crisis, with
anti-Western violence spreading to more countries over the weekend and al-Qaida
trying to harness the new wave of Muslim resentment.
Protests came to a
crescendo after Friday prayers in countries across the Middle East, and spread
to countries such as Sudan, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and
Trying to tamp down raucous protests in Cairo – where the
controversy began when a 14-minute trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims,
made in the US, was translated into Arabic and aired on a talk show – Egyptian
police stormed Tahrir Square early on Saturday and arrested hundreds of people
after four-straight days of clashes.
In a call for calm, Saudi Arabia’s
highest religious authority on Saturday denounced the attacks on diplomats and
embassies across the Middle East as un-Islamic. Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al
al- Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, condemned the attacks while urging
governments and international bodies to criminalize insults against prophets – a
reference to freedom of speech in the US and in countries such as Denmark, where the publication of a series of cartoons lampooning the prophet
Muhammad sparked violence and worldwide protests in 2005.
the short film as “miserable” and “criminal,” but said attacks on diplomats and
other innocent people were “a distortion of the Islamic religion and are not
accepted by God.”
Many other mainstream Muslim organizations worldwide
have condemned the violence, saying that while the film was unacceptable, the
response might ultimately do more harm to Islam.
President Mohamed Morsy
also spoke out against the violence on Friday, addressing the issue for some
seven minutes on state TV, Egyptian news media reported. Morsy made the comments
after coming under criticism by many Egyptians for not doing more to discourage
the attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo.
“It is required by our religion
to protect our guests and their homes and places of work,” Morsy said. “So I
call on all to consider this, consider the law, and not attack embassies,
consulates, diplomatic missions or Egyptian property that is private or
Al-Qaida, in contrast, went public with an attempt to commandeer
the outpouring of anger over the film, calling on its followers to stage more
attacks that would expel American embassies from Muslim soil.
posted on a website used by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on Saturday called
on Muslims to “follow the example of Omar al-Mukhtar’s descendants [Libyans],
who killed the American ambassador.”
“Let the step of kicking out the
embassies be a step towards liberating Muslim countries from the American
hegemony,” the Yemen-based group said.
In Sanaa, the Yemeni capital,
hundreds attended the funeral on Saturday of a young protester shot dead when
riot police battled a crowd attacking the US Embassy on Thursday, Reuters
“The film published in America which insults our Prophet
Muhammad, peace be upon him, comes as part of the continuing crusader wars
against Islam,” the statement of al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula said. “The
incident is so huge that the resources of the nation should be pooled together
to kick out the embassies of America from Muslim lands.”
Al-Qaida went on
to encourage Muslims living in the West to be involved in the struggle, saying
that they had an extra duty to be involved in attacks because of their access to
Western targets. “They are more capable of doing harm and reaching the enemy is
easier for them,” the group said in a statement.
have been dispatched to the US missions in Libya and in Yemen since the attack
Tuesday night on the US Consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel.
a second statement, al- Qaida said Tuesday’s attack in Libya was motivated in
part by the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan al-Qaida leader who was killed
in Pakistan by a US drone strike. Although al-Libi was killed in June, al-Qaida
only acknowledged his death on Tuesday.
“The killing of Sheikh Abu Yahya
only increased the enthusiasm of the proud, jihadi people of Libya and their
determination for revenge against those who mock our religion and defame our
prophet... so they stormed the American consulate and killed the ambassador,”
said the statement, written as a eulogy to Libi.
On Friday, violent
protests spread to Sudan, where demonstrators clashed with police and tried to
breach the German Embassy in Khartoum. They raised an Islamic flag and set the
building on fire. Police had earlier fired tear gas to try to disperse some
5,000 protesters who had ringed the German Embassy and the nearby British
mission. But a Reuters witness said policemen just stood by when the crowd
forced its way into Germany’s mission.
Demonstrators hoisted a black
Islamic flag saying in white letters, “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is
his prophet.” They smashed windows, cameras and furniture in the building and
then started a fire, witnesses said.
Afterwards, Sudan rejected an offer
by the Washington to send Marines to increase security at embassy in
“Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum
and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps,”
Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told the state news agency SUNA, Reuters
Demonstrations also turned violent in Tunisia when protesters
tried to attack the US Embassy compound in Tunis, the capital. Four people were
killed and another 46 were wounded in the clashes between demonstrators and
police, Reuters reported, citing state television figures. Police fought
hundreds of rioters who smashed windows, threw firebombs and stones at police
from inside, and started fires in the embassy.
In Afghanistan, two
American Marines were killed in attack on their base late Friday. The Taliban
claimed responsibility, saying it was in response to the film.
Bastion, in southern Helmand province, had come under mortar, rocket-propelled
grenade and small arms fire late on Friday in an attack in which several
servicemen were wounded.
Britain’s Prince Harry was at Camp Bastion at
the time of Friday’s attack, but was unharmed.
“The aim of this attack
was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie,” Taliban spokesman
Qari Yousuf said.
In Lebanon, one demonstrator was killed and two others
were wounded in clashes in the northern city of Tripoli on
Earlier, a US fast food restaurant was set alight. Twelve members
of the security forces were wounded by stones thrown by protesters, the source
The crowd shouted anti-American slogans and chants against the
pope’s visit to Lebanon.
Pope Benedict arrived in Lebanon for a three-day
visit on Friday.
A Reuters journalist at the scene saw hundreds of
protesters dodging gunfire and tear gas as they threw stones at security forces
in armored vehicles.
Protesters chanted, “We don’t want the pope,” and
“No more insults.”
Also on Friday, Beduin attacked an international
peacekeeping base in the northern Sinai. Dozens of gunmen broke down the wall of
the facility housing the headquarters of the Multinational Force and Observers,
which is stationed there are part of the Camp David Accords between Israel and
Egypt. The attackers set fire to vehicles and facilities, and clashed with
forces inside the compound. The attack was thought to be related to the
The ferocity of the protests and the alacrity
with which they have spread have come as an unsettling surprise to the
administration of US President Barack Obama, who had made a point of warming
relations with the Muslim world after the eightyear administration of George W.
Bush. Obama vowed on Friday that US resolve would be unshaken by the protests as
he oversaw the solemn return of the bodies of Stevens and the three other
Americans killed in Libya.
“The United States will never retreat from the
world,” Obama told an audience of grieving family members, diplomats and
dignitaries inside a vast aircraft hangar at Andrews Air Force Base outside
Washington. He pledged to “bring to justice the ones who took them from us” and
to hold foreign governments responsible for safeguarding US diplomatic and
consular staff around the world.