US official in Libya killed and Egypt in chaos after Islamists decide movie justifies assault
An armed mob protesting a film deemed offensive to Islam attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Tuesday killing a U.S. official, hours after angry Islamists stormed Washington’s embassy in Cairo.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement late on Tuesday, confirmed the death of the U.S. diplomat, who was not identified, and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate, after a day of mayhem in two countries that raised fresh questions about Washington’s relations with the Arab world.
Libya’s deputy interior minister Wanis al-Sharif told AFP: “One American official was killed and another injured in the hand. The other staff members were evacuated and are safe and sound.”
Sharif, who is in charge of Libya’s eastern region, said: “Demonstrators attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. They fired shots in the air before entering the building.”
The violent protest was strongly condemned by Libya’s General National Congress, which in a statement expressed “outrage at the unfortunate attack against the American consulate in Benghazi,” according to AFP.
Earlier Tuesday, Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned a symbolic “trial” of the Prophet organized by a U.S. group including Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who triggered riots in Afghanistan in 2010 by threatening to burn the Quran.
But it was not immediately clear whether it was the event sponsored by Jones, or another, possibly related, anti-Islam production, that prompted the melee at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and possibly the violence in Libya.
Whatever the cause, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties with Arab dictators who could be counted on to muzzle dissent.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in recent weeks had appeared to overcome some of its initial caution following the election of an Islamist Egyptian President, Mohammed Mursi, offering his government desperately needed debt relief and backing for international loans.
Abdul Muniem al-Hurr, spokesman for Libya’s Supreme Security Committee, said: “There is a connection between this attack and the protests that have been happening in Cairo.”
But a U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to believe the two incidents were linked, according to Reuters.
U.S. media, including The Wall Street Journal, reported that the film at issue, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by an Israeli-American real estate developer, but had been promoted by Jones.
Once the U.S. flag was hauled down in Cairo, some protesters tore it up and displayed bits to television cameras. Others burned the remnants outside the fortress-like embassy building in central Cairo. But some protesters objected to the flag burning.
Arab League deputy secretary general, Ahmed Ben Helli, has condemned the film saying it “contained insults against the prophet Mohammed” and “was denounced by Christians and Muslims” across the Arab world.
Clinton declared: “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”
“But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Tuesday’s protests came on the eleventh anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when U.S. cities were targeted by hijacked planes.
Egyptian activist Wael Ghoneim wrote on his Facebook page that “attacking the U.S. embassy on Sept. 11 and raising flags linked to al-Qaeda will not be understood by the American public as a protest over the film about the prophet.
“Instead, it will be received as a celebration of the crime that took place on September 11,” he said.
Washington has a large mission in Egypt, partly because of a huge aid program that followed Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The United States gives $1.3 billion to Egypt’s military each year and offers the nation other aid.
Following the protest, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it was committed to giving all embassies the protection they needed.
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