TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The northern city of Tripoli was free of protests after Friday prayers, in stark contrast to the violence a week ago that left one man killed during rallies against an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. The Army and Internal Security Forces took strict security measures in the city. Prominent Tripoli residents including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who was in his Tripoli residence Friday, also helped ensure calm.
Last Friday, protesters in Tripoli set fire to the American fast food restaurants KFC and Hardee’s, and burned American and Israeli flags. They were demonstrating against a trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which insults the Prophet Mohammad and has sparked anti-U.S. protests in several countries.
Adding fuel to the fire, a French satirical magazine published cartoons depicting a naked Prophet Mohammad earlier this week.
The Lebanese Army deployed heavily at noon at the City Complex in Tripoli which houses the French Cultural Center, as well as near French schools and branches of Fransabank and Banque Libano-Francaise.
Heeding a call from French authorities, Francophone schools and other establishments affiliated with France were closed Friday.
Anticipating a repeat of last week’s violence, news outlets gathered in Tripoli but protesters appeared deterred from taking to the streets by the announcement – made shortly before prayers – that authorities had arrested some of those involved in rioting.
Tripoli’s police chief Brig. Bassam Ayoubi announced that 14 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks on KFC, Hardee’s and Tripoli’s Serail. Videos of the arrested men in custody were broadcast on various media outlets.
Ayoubi said the police were currently pursuing some 22 other people believed to be involved in the violence. “No one is above the law, and no one [who was involved] can be protected,” Ayyoubi said, reassuring the Lebanese that security forces will continue their undertaking.
Tripoli resident Umm Sami condemned the attack on the KFC, which she said employs more than 70 people from Tripoli and Akkar.
“We hope that the Lebanese Army will continue to tighten its grip on all neighborhoods in Tripoli and mete out the appropriate punishment to whomever wants to distort the image of Tripoli and Islam,” she told The Daily Star.
“[Some] private schools will not open until early next week ... Today some schools closed for fear of being attacked, will schools stop receiving students every Friday?” she asked.
Umm Sami was concerned students would not receive a full academic year of classes.
Separately, a number of activists held a sit-in near the torched KFC, protesting the attack against it while condemning the film.