Protests spread against anti-Islam film
The violent backlash against a US-made amateur film mocking the Prophet Mohammed spread to new countries in the Islamic world, dashing hopes in the West that the furore might soon be contained.
If anything the hardline rhetoric grew more pronounced on a sixth day of angry protests.
Despite appeals for calm from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, thousands took to the streets for a sixth day in demonstrations that reached Indonesia, and the Philippines for the first time.
Protesters meanwhile came out with renewed intensity in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where at least two people were killed. In all 21 countries have been subject to protests or attacks on US and Western targets.
In Iran, the country’s first vice-president, Mohammed Reza Rahimi, said the Islamist regime would take it upon itself to bring to justice Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the Egyptian Coptic Christian living in the US who is suspected of making the film “The Innocence of Muslims.”
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns this inappropriate and offensive action,” he said. “Certainly it will search for, track and pursue this guilty person who has insulted 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.”
Mr Rahimi did not disclose how Iran intended to carry out its threat and his government did not go so far as to repeat the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Sir Salman Rushdie in 1989 for his depiction of Mohammed in “The Satanic Verses”.
Islamist leaders have appeared determined to draw a link between the two cases. A day after a senior Iranian cleric raised the bounty on the author’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, denounced the film as an ever greater insult to Islam than “The Satanic Verses”.
Responding to his call for a demonstration of public anger in Lebanon, thousands of followers of the Shia militant group, which is funded and armed by Iran, massed in the slums of south Beirut.
“The whole world needs to see your anger on your faces, in your fists and your shouts,” Sheikh Nasrallah said.
“The whole world should know that the Prophet has followers who will not be silent in the face of humiliation.”
President Barack Obama has raised alerts at 65 US embassies and consulates in the past week and approved the removal yesterday of 100 embassy staff members and American citizens from Tunisia after the US embassy was attacked last week. The US also warned against travel to Lebanon.
More than 1,000 members of the Tunisian security forces yesterday surrounded the al-Fatah mosque, where a Salafist leader wanted by police over clashes at the US embassy was meeting hundreds of followers. Across the region, some demonstrations have been spontaneous, but many have been called by leaders of religious parties seeking to advance their Islamist credentials.
Hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the film torched a press club and a government building in the northwestern Pakistani town of Wari, setting off clashes with police that killed one demonstrator and wounded several others. Another was killed in Karachi. Raja Pervez Ashraf, the prime minister, later ordered the suspension of YouTube, where what he called the “blasphemous” video has been easily viewed.
Protests also turned violent outside the Camp Phoenix US military base in Kabul, where about 800 protesters burned cars and threw rocks, injuring about 20 riot policemen. Many in the crowd shouted “Death to America!”
Hundreds clashed with police outside the US embassy in Jakarta, hurling rocks and firebombs and setting tires alight. It was the first violence seen in the world’s most populous Muslim country in reaction to the film.
Four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, were last week killed in an attack by armed militants on the US consulate in Benghazi amid a protest against the video. At least another five people have died subsequent protests.
First posted online in July, the film was ignored until a14-minute trailer was translated into Arabic and then featured in a news report by a Islamist broadcaster in Egypt.
In Europe, fringe groups who are in favour of the film are now beginning to pose a freedom of speech dilemma for leaders, who have denounced the work as crass and insensitive while calling for restraint from protestors.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said the authorities in her country, which has a sizeable Muslim minority, saw “good reason” for banning the film.
“It’s not about banning the film itself but about whether the public screening would endanger public safety,” said Mrs Merkel, after a far-Right group said it planned to show the film publicly.
On the weekend Germany forbade Terry Jones, the American pastor who sparked Arab outrage when he burned Korans on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, from entering the country.
Germany has already withdrawn some staff from its embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, which was attacked on Friday along with the British embassy.