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US embassy in Egypt ‘warned’ of violence over anti-Islam film

Published time: September 18, 2012 08:19
Edited time: September 18, 2012 19:42
Protesters take their positions during clashes with riot police along a road at Kornish El Nile in the tunnel which leads to the U.S. embassy, near Tahrir Square in Cairo September 15, 2012. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Protesters take their positions during clashes with riot police along a road at Kornish El Nile in the tunnel which leads to the U.S. embassy, near Tahrir Square in Cairo September 15, 2012. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The US embassy in Cairo was “fully aware” of a possible violent backlash sparked by an anti-Islam film. A cable was sent to Cairo warning of violence prior to the US ambassador’s murder in Libya, but wasn’t shared with other embassies in the region.

The classified communiqué from Washington was sent to the Cairo embassy on September 10, a day prior to the outbreak of the riots, anonymous sources told al-Arabiya. It said that the American film entitled “Innocence of the Muslims” had been uploaded to Facebook by “migrant Copts,” exiled Egyptian Christians, and had the potential to spark protests and violence.

In spite of the advance warning comparatively little was done and the communiqué was not passed on to other embassies in the Middle East.

The ensuing violence caused by the scandalous film led to the death of the US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens when enraged anti-American protesters stormed the US consulate in Benghazi. Unrest quickly spread to Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority nations.

Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US State Department, said that the diplomatic staff members were “well aware” that the video could incite anti-American sentiment and spark riots.

“So when we had the difficulties, there was actually minimal staff in the building because we were already alerted and we had alerted the Egyptians as well,” she told a news briefing on Monday.

A security source speaking on condition of anonymity said the information was not shared because the worries over possible violence were specific to Egypt.

The Obama administration has categorically denied that it had any previous intelligence on the Libyan embassy attack and maintains an investigation is underway into the attacks.

On the morning of the 11th when the riots broke out, the US embassy in Cairo posted on its Facebook page, condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” a direct reference to the anti-Muslim film, according to a US official.

The post was deleted later on as it had been put up without the permission of the US state department, said the official.

The film “Innocence of the Muslims” provoked the ire of protesters throughout the Muslim world, inciting mass anti-American riots, some of which were violent. Activists have condemned the video as blasphemous as it portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer and a thug.

In order to curtail the rising malcontent in the Muslim world, Google has restricted access to the video in Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Libya and India.

In addition, the Bangladeshi and Pakistani governments have moved to block YouTube completely in an effort to stem unrest.

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has also said it will ask the courts to put a block on the video on the basis that it is “extremist and offensive to believers.”