A US official was killed as an armed mob attacked the US Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. The attack came hours after protesters stormed the US Embassy in Cairo in indignation over an American film they say insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
“One American official was killed and another injured in the hand,” Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharef told AFP. “The other staff members were evacuated and are safe and sound.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed that one official from her agency was killed in the attack.
The Benghazi attackers set fire to the building, according to witness reports, who say much of the consulate was burned. There were reports of fierce gunfights between the attackers and Libyan security forces. Rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the consulate from a nearby farm, said Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr, a spokesman for the Libyan Interior Ministry's security commission.
"The Libyan security forces came under heavy fire, and we were not prepared for the intensity of the attack," Hurr said. At least three members of the security forces were taken away in an ambulance, Reuters reported.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland strongly condemned the attack on the US diplomatic mission.
Earlier, over 2,000 protesters stormed the US Embassy in Cairo in neighboring Egypt, some of them removing the American flag and trying to replace it with a black flag reading "There is no God but Allah." This was the first time ever that the US embassy in Egypt had been attacked or breached.
The film that is believed to have triggered the uprisings was produced by a US-based group that includes Terry Jones, a Christian pastor involved in a Koran-burning scandal that triggered mass protests in Afghanistan. On the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, he released a video promoting the film that portrays the Prophet in a "satirical" manner, according to Jones.
The embassy in Cairo, in a statement, condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
"This movie must be banned immediately and an apology should be made … this is a disgrace," one of the Egyptian activists told Reuters, calling on President Mohamed Morsi to take action.
Ahmed Ben Helli, the Arab League deputy secretary general, has also condemned the film, saying it "contained insults against the Prophet Mohammed" and "was denounced by Christians and Muslims" across the Arab world.
Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the University of Denver, told RT that such protests could spread through the entire Arab world, as there is no shortage of extreme groups – the same applies to the US – that would love to co-opt the incident for their own cause.
RT: The protests escalated into attacks on the US diplomatic missions at a breakneck pace. Are you surprised at this, and what does this say about pent-up anger at America in the region?
Nader Hashemi: I am surprised largely because no one has ever heard about this controversial film. All of a sudden we are told that it’s a cause for deep concern that it is in production. It’s led to a protest in Egypt and in Libya, but I think that it is important not to exaggerate the scale of the protest. This is not Egyptian society boiling over, this is a very small group of extremists – about 15 hundred who attacked the US embassy. What we have here is, you know, the extreme elements both in the United States and in Egypt mutually reinforcing one another.
RT: Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who burned the Koran earlier, has promoted the film. Is this a specific case of some Americans spreading anti-Islamic sentiment, or does it represent the general attitude in America towards the Muslim world these days?
NH: No, this is an extreme lunatic fringe of the American religious spectrum. When Terry Jones began burning the Koran on his front lawn in Florida, he was widely condemned by most decent people. But you know, people like this, I think are looking for a reaction – they are looking for precisely what we saw today in Cairo and in Benghazi. They deeply are trying to promote a clash of civilizations. And thankfully both groups both in Egypt and the US are in a minority, in an extreme minority, and let’s hope it stays there.
RT: Given what we've seen so far, do you expect much more fallout from this?
NH: Well, it remains to be seen. What disturbs me is that this is a film no one knew anything about. Now it has generated into protests – the fear of this spreading to other countries. There are groups such as we saw today in Egypt and in Libya that thrive on this type of controversy. They want to gain publicity for their own cause by turning an incident such as this into a major international issue. So yes, there is fear that we are going to see copycats of demonstrations throughout the Arab and Muslim world. And let’s hope that cooler heads can prevail.
Meanwhile, British Channel 4 has called off another controversial documentary questioning the origins of Islam, citing security concerns.
“Islam: The Untold Story," which claims that there is little contemporary evidence of the origins of Islam, drew over 1,000 complains after it was screened two weeks ago.
"Having taken security advice we have reluctantly cancelled a planned screening of the program, Islam: The Untold Story. We remain extremely proud of the film, which is still available to view on 4oD," the channel said in a statement.
Metropolitan police say they are unaware of any advice leading to the channel's decision to cancel the screening. But sources close to the channel say it was received from "relevant security authorities."