Muslim riots spread across Middle East, N. Africa

Relative calm takes hold in Muslim world following days of deadly protests over amateur US film denigrating Islam.

Egyptians protest at US embassy 390 (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egyptians protest at US embassy 390
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
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 Malaysia.
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.
He described 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 public.”
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.
A statement 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 reported.
“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.
Marine reinforcements 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.
In 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 Khartoum.
“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 reported.
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.
Camp 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 Friday.
Earlier, a US fast food restaurant was set alight. Twelve members of the security forces were wounded by stones thrown by protesters, the source said.
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 worldwide demonstrations.
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.