13th September, 2012
SANAA (AFP) Demonstrators briefly stormed the US embassy compound in Yemen on Thursday while protesters pelted the Egypt mission with stones after a night of clashes, as anger spread over a film mocking Islam.
Yemeni police used water cannon and fired warning shots to expel protesters who breached the perimeter wall, and at least one demonstrator was shot dead outside the compound as police battled to prevent any new incursion.
Demonstrations were also held in Iraq and Iran as anger over the US-produced movie “Innocence of Muslims” that initially erupted among Sunni Muslims spread to the two Shiite-majority countries.
The protests came even as US and Libyan officials said they had launched investigations into a mob attack on the consulate in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other US officials on Tuesday, amid growing speculation it was the work of jihadist militants rather than just demonstrators.
In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, five protesters were also wounded when police opened fire outside the compound, a security official said.
Police had earlier fired warning shots as a crowd of thousands approached the main gate of the mission, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some protesters said they saw three vehicles being torched inside the compound before police ejected the demonstrators who had broken through.
After being driven back from the main gate, the crowd regrouped near a checkpoint some 100 metres (yards) back, chanting anti-Jewish slogans.
“O, Jews: Khaybar, Khaybar. The army of Mohammed will return,” they shouted, evoking a 7th century war in the west of the Arabian Peninsula in which the Muslims are said to have defeated the Jews.
In the Egyptian capital Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse the latest protest outside the embassy by stone- and bottle-throwing demonstrators, which came after a night of sporadic clashes in which the health ministry said 16 people were injured.
Armoured vehicles were deployed around the mission, an AFP correspondent reported.
On Tuesday night, protesters stormed the compound, tearing down the Stars and Stripes and replacing it with a black Islamic flag.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi condemned the offence caused by the US-produced movie but warned against resorting to violence.
“We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who… insult our prophet,” he said in remarks broadcast by state television.
“(But) it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad,” Morsi said. “I call on everyone to take that into consideration, not to violate Egyptian law… not to assault embassies.”
The low-budget movie in which actors have strong American accents, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.
It pokes fun at the Prophet Mohammed and touches on themes of paedophilia and homosexuality, while showing him sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as “the first Muslim animal.”
Libya announced that it had launched an investigation into Tuesday’s deadly assault on the US consulate in Bengazi after US officials said they were probing reports that it may have been carried out by Al-Qaeda rather than a frenzied mob.
Initial reports said that Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans were killed by an angry mob as they tried to flee in a car.
But it is now believed Stevens died from smoke inhalation after becoming trapped in the compound when suspected Islamic militants fired on the building with rocket-propelled grenades and set it ablaze.
US officials are investigating the possibility that the assault was a plot by Al-Qaeda affiliates or sympathisers, using the protests as a diversion to carry out a coordinated revenge attack on Tuesday’s 11th anniversary of 9/11.
A spokesman for the Libyan interior ministry’s security commission said the inquiry would be “very complicated” because the crowd outside the consulate had been very mixed.
“There were extremists, ordinary citizens, women, children and criminals,” Abdelmonem al-Horr told AFP.
Meanwhile, mystery deepened over the film at the root of the controversy, with conflicting accounts from backers and promoters but no one owning up to having actually directed it.
US media initially cited someone claiming to be an American-Israeli and calling himself Sam Bacile as saying he made the film on a $5 million budget with the help of 100 Jews, but no record of such a person has been found.
Coptic Christians have been accused of promoting an Arabic-adapted version of the English-language film in Egypt, where clips were shown on an Egyptian television channel at the weekend, apparently setting off the protests.
In the Iraqi Shiite shrine city of Najaf, hundreds of supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protested against the film on Thursday, shouting slogans hostile to the United States and Israel.
In the Iranian capital Tehran, up to 500 people protested, chanting “Death to America!” and to the movie’s director.
On Wednesday, protests were held outside US missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. In Tunis, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred.