BEIRUT/SANAA/CAIRO: The region is bracing for an escalation of protests following Friday prayers after anger over an anti-Islam film Thursday led to violent clashes in Yemen and Egypt.
Demonstrators attacked the U.S. embassies in Sanaa and Cairo, and American warships headed toward Libya after the U.S. ambassador there was killed in violence sparked by the release of a film considered blasphemous to Islam.
In Libya, authorities said they had made four arrests in the investigation into the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic staff in Benghazi Tuesday.
President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice those responsible for the Benghazi attack, which some U.S. officials said may have been planned in advance with members of Al-Qaeda’s North Africa-based affiliate involved.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington had nothing to do with the crudely made film – clips of which have been posted on the Internet – which she called “disgusting and reprehensible.”
The amateurish production, entitled the “Innocence of Muslims,” and originating in the United States, portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer, homosexual and a child abuser.
Demonstrations spread further, with U.S. Embassies again the targets of popular anger among Muslims questioning why the United States has failed to take action against the makers of the film.
The man suspected of producing the film was placed under police protection in California Thursday after federal authorities identified a 55-year-old Coptic Christian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as the key figure behind the film.
Journalists gathered outside a home in the city’s southern suburbs, but there was no sign of Nakoula, who is thought to have uploaded a trailer to YouTube under the pseudonym “Sam Bacile.”
In Yemen, police shot dead four protesters and wounded 34 others when they opened fire on a crowd of hundreds as they broke through the main gate of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound in the capital Sanaa.
Shouting “We sacrifice ourselves for you, Messenger of God,” they smashed windows of security offices outside the embassy and burned cars.
In Egypt, protesters hurled stones at a police cordon around the U.S. Embassy in central Cairo after climbing into the compound and tearing down the American flag. The state news agency said 13 people were hurt in violence which erupted late Wednesday, following initial protests Tuesday.
Around 200 demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait shouting slogans such as “God is great.” They hoisted banners, one of which read in English: “USA stop the bullshit. Respect us.”
Kuwaiti riot police encircled the crowd of men protesting peacefully.
Bangladeshi Islamists tried to march on the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka and Iranian students protested in Tehran.
Earlier in the week, there were protests outside U.S. missions in Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed during a protest against the film Tuesday at the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi when Islamists armed with guns, mortars and grenades staged military-style assaults on the mission and a safe house refuge.
A Libyan doctor at a Benghazi hospital said Stevens died of smoke inhalation. U.S. information technology specialist Sean Smith also died at the consulate, while two other Americans were killed when a squad of U.S. troops sent by helicopter from Tripoli to rescue diplomats from the safe house came under mortar attack.
Tuesday’s incident, on what was the 11th anniversary of Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States. on Sept. 11, 2001, has created an unwanted foreign policy crisis for Obama ahead of his bid for re-election in November.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Colorado, Obama said he had ordered his administration to do whatever was necessary to protect Americans abroad and that aides had been in contact with other governments “to let them know they’ve got a responsibility to protect our citizens.”
The U.S. military dispatched two destroyers toward the Libyan coast, in what an official said was a move to give the administration flexibility for future action.
The U.S. military also dispatched a Marine Corps anti-terrorist team to boost security in Libya. Obama’s administration sought to calm Muslim tensions amid calls for more protests across the region Friday.
Clinton said Washington rejected the film’s message absolutely, and added: “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and provoke rage.”
At the same time, Clinton noted the history of religious tolerance in the United States and its commitment to freedom of speech and said there was no justification for people to respond with violence.
“I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day,” she said. “I would note that in today’s world, with today’s technologies, that is virtually impossible.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a sharp critic of last year’s Western military intervention in Libya and of Western backing for Syria’s rebels, condemned the violence and made clear he believed Western support for rebels in Arab countries was leading to chaos.
“I very much hope this tragedy will push all of us together to intensify the joint – and I want to emphasize, joint – struggle against extremism and terrorist threats,” he told reporters in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
“We do not know the ultimate aims of these ‘freedom fighters.’ We fear that the region may plunge into chaos, and that is actually happening.”
Many Muslim states focused their condemnation on the film and will be concerned about preventing a repeat of the fallout seen after publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. This touched off riots in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in 2006 in which at least 50 people were killed.
Clashes near the U.S. Embassy in Yemen flared Thursday but died down as night fell. Residents living nearby said they feared more violent protests after Friday prayers.
“It is a dangerous situation,” one resident told Reuters. “I cannot wait until the morning to move my family to another neighborhood until the situation is totally calm.”
In Nigeria, the government put police on high alert and stepped up security around all foreign missions, also fearing an Islamist backlash.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the making of the movie a “devilish act” but said he was certain those involved in its production were a very small minority. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has appealed to Afghan leaders for help in “maintaining calm,” and Afghanistan ordered the YouTube site shut down so Afghans would not be able to see the film.