American shot dead as protesters burn US consulate
on 12/09/2012 07:15:37
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the State Department officer's death today and said she had called the Libyan president to co-ordinate additional support to protect Americans there.
She said the US deplored any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there was never justification for "vicious behaviour" like this.
In Cairo, Egypt, protesters scaled the US embassy walls and replaced an American flag with an Islamic banner.
It was the first such assaults on US diplomatic buildings in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ousting of their long-time leaders Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak in uprisings last year.
The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Mohammad produced by an American in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States.
In Benghazi, a large mob stormed the US consulate, with gunmen firing their weapons, said Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official.
A witness said attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the building.
Outnumbered by the crowd, Libyan security forces did little to stop them, Mr al-Sharef said.
The crowd overwhelmed the consulate and set fire to it, burning most of it and looting the contents, witnesses said.
One American was shot dead and a second was wounded in the hand, Mr al-Sharef said. He did not give further details, and there was no immediate US confirmation of the death.
Hours before the Benghazi attack, hundreds of mainly ultra-conservative Islamist protesters in Egypt marched to the US embassy in Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie and the US.
Most of the embassy staff had left the compound earlier because of warnings of the upcoming demonstration.
"Say it, don't fear: Their ambassador must leave," the crowd chanted.
Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, and several went into the courtyard and took down the American flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart.
The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god but God and Mohammed is his prophet".
The flag, similar to the banner used by al-Qaida, is commonly used by ultra-conservatives around the region.
The crowd grew throughout yesterday evening with thousands standing outside the embassy. Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls but did not stop protesters as they continued to climb and stand on the wall - though it appeared no more went into the compound.
A group of women in black veils and robes chanted: "Worshippers of the cross, leave the prophet Mohammed alone."
By midnight, the crowd had dwindled. The US embassy said on its Twitter account that there would be no visa services today because of the protests.
A senior Egyptian security official at the embassy area said authorities allowed the protest because it was "peaceful".
When they started climbing the walls, he said he called for more troops, denying that the protesters stormed the embassy.
The Cairo embassy is in a diplomatic area in Garden City, where the British and Italian embassies are located, only a few blocks away from Tahrir Square, the centre of last year's uprising that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry promised to provide the necessary security for diplomatic missions and embassies and warned that "such incidents will negatively impact the image of stability in Egypt, which will have consequences on the life of its citizens".
"This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet," said protester Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim.
Speaking before reports of the murdered American emerged, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the attack on the consulate in Libya "in the strongest terms".
Muslims find it offensive to depict Mohammed in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.
A 14-minute trailer of the film that sparked the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Mohammed as a fraud, a womaniser and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
A YouTube spokesman said the website's policy was to remove videos that include a threat of violence, but not those expressing only opinions.
Sam Bacile, an American citizen who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
Mr Bacile said he was Jewish and familiar with the region. He said the film was produced in English and he did not know who dubbed it in Arabic.
"The main problem is I am the first one to put on the screen someone who is (portraying) Mohammed. It makes them mad," he said.
"But we have to open the door. After 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Mohammed."
Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the US known for his anti-Islam views, said he was promoting the video on his website and on some TV stations, which he did not identify.