US steps up security as Muslim film protests spread

Fri, Sep 14, 2012, 01:00

Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Muhammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers today with protesters attacking US embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions.

The obscure California-made film triggered an attack on the US consulate in Libya's city of Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans on Tuesday, the anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

In Tunis, at least three people were killed and more than two dozen wounded, state television said after police gunfire near the US embassy in the city that was the cradle of last year's Arab Spring uprisings for democracy.

At least one person died in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, a doctor said, after some of thousands of protesters had leaped into the US embassy.

As US military drones faced Islamist anti-aircraft fire over Benghazi, about 50 marines landed in Yemen a day after the US embassy there was stormed. For a second day in the capital Sanaa, police battled hundreds of young men around the mission.

In Khartoum, wider anger at Western attitudes to Islam also saw the German embassy overrun, with police doing little to stop demonstrators who raised a black Islamist flag.

Violence at the US embassy followed protests against both Washington and the Sudanese government, which is broadly at odds with the West.

The wave of indignation and rage over the film, which portrays Muhammad as a womaniser and a fool, coincided with Pope Benedict's arrival in Lebanon for a three-day visit.

The protests present US president Barack Obama with a new foreign policy crisis less than two months before seeking re-election and tests Washington's relations with democratic governments it helped to power across the Arab world.

He was at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to greet a flight bringing home remains of the four dead from Benghazi.

It also emerged that Libya had closed its airspace over the second city's airport for a time because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at US reconnaissance drones flying over the city; Mr Obama vowed to bring the ambassador's killers to justice.

The closure of the airport prompted speculation that the United States was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against the militants who were involved in the attack.

A Libyan official said the spy planes flew over the embassy compound and the city, taking photos and inspecting locations of radical militant groups who are believed to have planned and staged the attack on the US consulate.

There were protests in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The Pentagon said it had sent a "fast" platoon of Marines to Yemen to bolster US embassy security after clashes in Sanaa.

US embassies were the main target of anger and protest but most embassy staff were not at work because Friday is the Muslim weekend across the Arab World.

The frenzy erupted after traditional Muslim Friday prayers.

Fury over the film has been stoked by Internet video footage, social networks, preachers and word-of-mouth.

Protesters clashed with police near the US embassy in Cairo. Two Islamist preachers in Egypt told worshippers that those who made the movie deserved to die under Islamic law but they urged protesters not to take their anger out on diplomats.

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