Fury over an anti-Islam film spread across the Muslim world Friday, with deadly clashes near Western embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, an American fast-food restaurant set ablaze in Lebanon, and international peacekeepers attacked in the Sinai despite an appeal for calm from Egypt’s Islamist president.
The broadening of the protests appeared to reflect a pent-up resentment of Western powers in general, and defied pleas for restraint from world leaders, including the new Islamist president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, whose country was the instigator of the demonstrations that erupted three days earlier on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The anger stretched from North Africa to South Asia and Indonesia and in some cases was surprisingly destructive. In Tunis, an American-run school that was untouched during the revolution nearly two years ago was completely ransacked. In eastern Afghanistan, protesters burned an effigy of President Obama, who had made an outreach to Muslims a thematic pillar of his first year in office.
The State Department said U.S. Embassy personnel were reported to be safe in Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen – sites of Friday’s violent demonstrations.
President Barack Obama said Washington would “stand fast” against attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. He spoke at a somber ceremony paying tribute to four Americans – including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens – killed earlier this week when the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed by militants who may have used protests of the anti-Muslim film to stage an assault on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An elite Marine rapid response team arrived in Yemen’s capital of Saana, where local security forces shot live rounds in the air and fired tear gas at a crowd of an estimated 2,000 protesters who were kept about a block away from the U.S. Embassy, which protesters broke into the day before.
In east Jerusalem, Israeli police stopped a crowd of about 400 Palestinians from marching on the U.S. Consulate to protest the film. Demonstrators threw bottles and stones at police, who responded by firing stun grenades. Four protesters were arrested.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had tried to pre-empt the violence a day earlier by saying the rage and violence aimed at American diplomatic missions was prompted by “an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.”
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi went on national TV and appealed to Muslims not to attack embassies. It was his first public move to restrain protesters after days of near silence and appeared aimed at easing tensions with the United States.
The worst damage was inflicted on the American Cooperative School of Tunis, a highly regarded institution that, despite its name, catered mostly to the children of non-American expatriates, nearly half of whom work for the African Development Bank. School officials, who had sent the 650 students home early, said a few protesters scaled the fence and dismantled monitoring cameras, followed by 300 to 400 others, some of them local residents, who looted everything including 700 laptop computers, musical instruments and the safe in the director’s office, and then set the building on fire.
“It’s ransacked,” the director, Allan Bredy, said in a telephone interview. “We were thinking it was something the Tunisia government would keep under control. We had no idea they would allow things to go as wildly as they did.”
The school’s director of security, David Santiago, said a group of staff members formed a posse armed with baseball bats to chase lingering looters away hours after the assault. “Our elementary school library is burning as we speak,” he said angrily as he and his colleagues sought to assess the damage. “It’s complete chaos.”
Thousands of Palestinians joined demonstrations after Friday Prayer in the Gaza Strip. Since there is no American diplomatic representation in Gaza, the main gathering took place in Gaza City, outside the Parliament building, where American and Israeli flags were placed on the ground for the crowds to stomp. Palestinians also clashed with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and held protests in the West Bank.
Witnesses in Cairo said protests that first flared Tuesday grew in scope on Friday, with demonstrators throwing rocks and gasoline bombs near the American Embassy and the police firing tear gas. The Egyptian news media said more than 220 people had been injured in clashes so far.
In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, and three other Americans were killed Tuesday, militias fired rockets at what they thought were American drones overhead, prompting the government to temporarily close the airport as a precaution. The bodies of Mr. Stevens and the others killed in the Libya attack were returned to the United States on Friday.
In Lebanon, where Pope Benedict XVI was visiting, one person was killed and 25 were injured as protesters attacked restaurants. There was also turmoil in Yemen, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, Pakistan and Iraq, and demonstrations in Malaysia. In Nigeria, troops fired into the air to disperse protesters marching on the city of Jos, Reuters reported. In Syria, about 200 protesters chanted anti-American slogans outside the long-closed American Embassy in Damascus, news reports said.
In the Egyptian Sinai, a group of Bedouins stormed an international peacekeepers’ camp and set fire to an observation tower, according to Al Ahram Online, a state-owned, English-language Web site. Three people, two Colombians and one Egyptian, were injured in the ensuing clashes.
In Yemen, baton-wielding security forces backed by water cannons blocked streets near the American Embassy a day after protesters breached the outer security perimeter there, and officials said two people were killed in clashes with the police. Still, a group of several dozen protesters gathered near the diplomatic post, carrying placards and shouting slogans.
In Iraq, where the heavily fortified American Embassy sits on the banks of the Tigris River inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and is out of reach to most Iraqis, thousands protested after Friday Prayer in Sunni and Shiite cities alike.
Raising banners with Islamic slogans and denouncing the United States and Israel, Iraqis called for the expulsion of American diplomats from the country and demanded that the American government apologize for the incendiary film and take legal action against its creators.
In Egypt, in particular, leaders scrambled to repair deep strains with Washington provoked by their initial response to attacks on the American Embassy on Tuesday, tacitly acknowledging that they erred in their response by focusing far more on anti-American domestic opinion than on condemning the violence.
The attacks squeezed Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood between conflicting pressures from Washington and their Islamic constituency at home, a senior Brotherhood official acknowledged. During a 20-minute phone call Wednesday night, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Morsi that relations would be jeopardized if the authorities in Cairo failed to protect American diplomats and stand more firmly against anti-American attacks.
On Friday, Mr. Morsi, on a scheduled state visit to Rome, called attacks on foreign embassies “absolutely unacceptable.”