US slams anti-Islam video as protests rage, Agence France-PresseAssociated Press
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration braced for another potential eruption of violent demonstrations in the Muslim world after Friday’s weekly prayers—traditionally a time of protest in the Middle East and North Africa—in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.
On Thursday, four people died in the Yemeni capital Sanaa as police fired live rounds and tear gas to try to disperse an angry crowd trying to storm the US mission in protest at a video they consider blasphemous to Islam.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered an explicit denunciation of the anti-Prophet Mohammad Internet video as the administration sought to preempt further turmoil at its embassies.
Demonstrators also attacked the US Embassy in Egypt, and the United States sent warships to Libya.
Also in Libya, authorities said they had made four arrests in the investigation into Tuesday’s attack in Benghazi that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, about 10,000 protesters burned American and Israeli flags and tried to march to the US embassy to demonstrate against the anti-Islam video that has infuriated the Muslim world.
Chanting “We won’t tolerate insult to our great prophet,” the protesters held rowdy demonstrations outside the Baitul Mokarram Mosque, the country’s largest, after weekly prayers. Some 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 153 million people are Muslims.
Muslims also held demonstrations across Malaysia on Friday, calling for the United States to prevent distribution of the film they said was part of a plot by “Christian extremists.”
The Malaysian protesters said they were not against Christianity and condemned the violence in Libya that led to the deaths of the US ambassador. At least 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslims, but there is also a sizeable Christian minority.
More than 350 Muslim fundamentalists and their supporters staged an anti-US demonstration in Jakarta, spewing anger at America over the anti-Islam film.
Authorities in Iran and the Gaza strip also called for demonstrations. Large protests were expected in Baghdad and Iraq’s second-largest city, Basra, as well as Amman, Jordan. Israel was stepping up security in anticipation of demonstrations after Muslim prayers.
Obama vows justice
The White House said it was prepared for more protests but stressed that any violence would be unjustified.
Facing a new foreign policy crisis less than two months before seeking reelection, US President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice those responsible for the Benghazi attack, which US officials said may have been planned in advance—possibly by an al-Qaida-linked group.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” Clinton said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco. “We absolutely reject its content and message.”
“To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible,” Clinton said. “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
Attack won’t go unpunished
US officials said they suspect the attack at the Benghazi consulate may have been only tangentially related to the film.
They also stressed there had been no advance intelligence to suggest a threat in Libya that would warrant boosting security.
Obama vowed the perpetrators would be punished.
“I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”
There was no intelligence indicating what happened in Benghazi was planned, according to two US officials briefed on the investigation. Intelligence officials believe it’s more likely the attack was “opportunistic or spontaneous,” with militants taking advantage of the demonstration to launch the assault.
There is also no evidence the attack was tied to 9/11, one of the officials said. But the Libyan-based militant group Ansar al Sharia is the leading suspect for carrying out the violence, possibly with help from al-Qaida’s main African-based offshoot, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
US officials are deeply concerned that extremists may take advantage of nonviolent demonstrations to copycat the Benghazi raid, or that otherwise peaceful protesters may be incited to attack because of the video, particularly on Friday.
It’s virtually impossible to predict when a crowd might form and turn violent, according to retired US Ambassador John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence.
“These things can be mobilized on the spur of the moment, set off by a spark,” especially in places such as Egypt and Libya where the ruling strongmen have just fallen, Negroponte said. “When you get rid of authoritarian regimes, there’s little or no institutional framework left. That’s why there’s disorder and chaos” that is so easily hijacked, he said.
No excuse for violence
While rejecting the content of the video, Clinton stressed that no matter how offensive it is, the film cannot be used as an excuse for violence.
“There is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence,” Clinton said. “We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms … It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These are places whose very purpose is peaceful: to promote better understanding across countries and cultures.”
She reminded foreign governments that they have a responsibility to protect embassies.
Around the world, US missions issued warnings to Americans about demonstrations that could turn violent. More than 50 embassies and consulates have released such alerts since Wednesday.
US federal authorities have identified a Coptic Christian in southern California, who is on probation after his conviction for financial crimes, as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film, a US law enforcement official said.
The official said authorities had concluded that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was behind the “Innocence of Muslims” film that denigrated Islam. It was not clear whether Nakoula was the target of a criminal investigation or part of a broader investigation into the deaths of Stevens and the three other Americans.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Nakoula was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile, a man who initially told the Associated Press he was the film’s writer and director. But Bacile turned out to be a false identity, and the AP traced a cell-phone number Bacile used to a southern California house where it located and interviewed Nakoula.
Bacile told AP he was Jewish and Israeli, although Israeli officials said they had no records of such a citizen. Others involved in the film said his statements were contrived, as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was a Coptic Christian with a checkered past.