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Middle East

Fury over Prophet Mohammad video simmers on in Muslim world

Egyptian protesters gather around a burning vehicle in downtown Cairo, Egypt, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, before police cleared the area after days of protests against a film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. (AP Photo)

DUBAI: A wave of furious anti-Western protests against a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad abated a little on Saturday, but U.S. policy in the Muslim world remained overshadowed by 13 minutes of amateurish video on the Internet.

Riot police stormed into Cairo's Tahrir Square and rounded up hundreds of people early on Saturday after four days of clashes and demands from protesters for the U.S. ambassador to be expelled.

Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority denounced the attacks on diplomats and embassies across the Middle East as un-Islamic.

In contrast, the Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda applauded the killings of U.S. diplomats in Libya and urged Muslims to kill more, calling the video posted on the Internet another chapter in the "crusader wars" against Islam.

A California man convicted of bank fraud, who has denied reports that he was involved in the film's production, was taken in for questioning by officers investigating possible probation violations stemming from the making of the film.

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a base that killed two American Marines, saying it was a response to the insults to the founder of Islam.

And hundreds of Muslims took to the streets of Australia's largest city, some throwing rocks and bottles in clashes with police. Some carried placards reading "Behead all those who insult the Prophet".

Saturday was, however, relatively calm after at least nine deaths in the Muslim world on Friday during protests and attacks on American and other Western embassies.

President Barack Obama, leading a ceremony on Friday to honour the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans who died in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, vowed to "stand fast" against the violence.

"The United States will never retreat from the world," he said. The Pentagon rushed to bolster security at missions abroad.

Libyan authorities said they had identified 50 people who were involved in the attack in which ambassador Christopher Stevens died.

Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, denounced the attacks while urging governments and international bodies to criminalise insults against prophets.

He described the short film as "miserable" and "criminal", but said attacks on the innocent and on diplomats were "a distortion of the Islamic religion and are not accepted by God".

The video, circulating on the Internet under several titles including "Innocence of Muslims", portrays Mohammad as a womaniser and a fool.

"We were attacked by Obama, and his government, and the Coptic Christians living abroad!" shouted one long-bearded Muslim protester outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Friday.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who has denied involvement in the film in a phone call to a Coptic Christian bishop, was ushered out of his home and into a waiting car by sheriff's deputies, his face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses.

"He will be interviewed by federal probation officers," a police spokesman said. "He was never put in handcuffs ... It was all voluntary."

U.S. officials have said authorities are not investigating the film project itself, and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime in the United States, which has strong free speech laws.

A statement posted on a website used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Saturday called on Muslims to "follow the example of Omar al-Mukhtar's descendants ( L ibyans), who killed the American ambassador".

"Let the step of kicking out the embassies be a step towards liberating Muslim countries from the American hegemony," the Yemen-based group said.

Hundreds of mourners in the Yemeni capital Sanaa attended the funeral on Saturday of a young protester shot dead when riot police battled a crowd attacking the U.S. embassy on Thursday.

Marine reinforcements have been hastily dispatched to the U.S. missions in Yemen and other countries since the unrest erupted. But Sudan said on Saturday it was turning down Washington's request to send more troops.

 

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