AN ARMED MOB protesting a film deemed offensive to Islam attacked the US mission in Benghazi killing an official, sources said, hours after Islamists stormed Washington’s embassy in Cairo.
The film at the centre of Tuesday’s anti-US protests in the two Middle Eastern cities was made by an Israeli-American who describes Islam as a “cancer” and depicts the Prophet Mohammed sleeping with women, the Wall Street Journal said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that a State Department official had been killed in the attack on America’s consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, saying “We are heartbroken by this terrible loss.”
Clinton did not name the man who was killed but said in a statement Washington was working with countries around the world to protect its missions.
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 US consulate in Benghazi. They fired shots in the air before entering the building.”
Egyptian protesters chant anti-US slogans outside the US embassy in Cairo yesterday. (Photo: AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Abdelmonoem al-Horr, spokesman for the Libyan interior ministry’s security commission, said rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the consulate from a nearby farm. Security forces and the interior ministry were trying to contain the situation, he added.
Witnesses said the attackers ripped up a US flag, then looted the consulate before setting it on fire on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“Dozens of demonstrators attacked the consulate and set fire to it,” said a Benghazi resident, who only gave his name as Omar, adding that he had seen the flames and heard shots in the vicinity.
Another Libyan witness said armed men, including ultra-conservative Salafists, had closed the streets leading up to the consulate.
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.”
The Libyan incident came after thousands of Egyptian demonstrators Tuesday tore down the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy in Cairo and replaced it with a black Islamic flag, similar to one adopted by several militant groups.
Nearly 3,000 demonstrators, most of them hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement, gathered at the embassy in protest over the film, which was produced in the United States.
A dozen men scaled the embassy walls and one of them tore down the US flag, replacing it with a black one inscribed with the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”
Protesters carry the American flag pulled down the US embassy in Cairo (Photo: AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Egyptian police intervened without resort to force and persuaded the trespassers to come down. The crowd then largely dispersed leaving just a few hundred protesters outside the US mission, an AFP correspondent reported.
The movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” was directed and produced by Sam Bacile, a 52-year-old real-estate developer from southern California.
“Islam is a cancer,” Bacile told the Wall Street Journal of his crudely-produced film, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed variously sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as “the first Muslim animal.”
The film is being promoted by controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has drawn protests in the past for burning the Koran and vehemently opposing the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.
In Washington, Clinton said she had spoken with Libyan leader Mohamed al-Megaryef to coordinate extra support to help protect Americans working in Libya, and he had pledged his full cooperation.
“In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide,” Clinton said.
“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,” she added.
“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 September 11, 2001, when US cities were targeted by hijacked planes.
Benghazi, a stronghold of Islamist extremists and cradle of the revolution that saw strongman Moamer Kadhafi captured and killed last year, has seen a wave of violence in recent months, including attacks on Western targets, bombings of military buildings and the killings of army and security officers.
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali has warned that Islamists amount to a “major force” in Libya both in terms of numbers and arms.