Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

United States consulate employee shot dead in Libya

An American consulate employee has been shot dead and another wounded in the hand in an attack at the US consulate in Libya's eastern city of Bengazi, a security chief said today.

Wanis al-Sharef, an interior ministry official in Bengazi, said the two were shot at the consulate during an attack by armed men who stormed the building.

The angry protest at the consulate yesterday was sparked by outrage over a US-produced film attacking Islam's prophet Mohammed.

Witnesses said armed men set fire to the consulate and fired shots into the air, burning much of the building.

Yesterday's attack came hours after ultra-conservative protesters scaled the walls of the US embassy in Egypt's capital, brought down the American flag and replaced it with a black Islamist flag.

It was the first time that the US embassy in Cairo had been breached and comes as Egypt is struggling to overcome months of unrest following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime.

US officials said no Americans were reported to have been harmed in the Cairo assaults, which happened when hundreds of protesters marched to the embassy, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie, by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner, and the US.

"Say it, don't fear: Their ambassador must leave," the crowd chanted.

Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, and several went into the courtyard and took down the flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart.

The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god but God and Mohammad is his prophet". The flag, similar to the banner used by al Qaida, is commonly used by ultra-conservatives around the region.

The crowd grew throughout the evening with thousands standing outside the embassy. Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls but did not stop protesters as they continued to climb and stand on the wall - though it appeared no more went into the compound.

The crowd chanted, "Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die". Some shouted, "We are all Osama", referring to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Young men, some in masks, sprayed graffiti on the walls. Some grumbled that Islamist president Mohammed Morsi had not spoken out about the film.

A group of women in black veils and robes that left only their eyes exposed chanted: "Worshippers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Muhammad alone."

By midnight, the crowd had dwindled. The US embassy said on its Twitter account that there would be no visa services today because of the protests.

A senior Egyptian security official at the embassy area said authorities allowed the protest because it was "peaceful". When they started climbing the walls, he said he called for more troops, denying that the protesters stormed the embassy.

A 14-minute trailer of the movie, posted on social website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Mohammad as a fraud, a womaniser and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

Muslims find it offensive to depict Mohammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

The Cairo embassy is in a diplomatic area in Garden City, where the British and Italian embassies are located, only a few blocks away from Tahrir Square, the centre of last year's uprising that led to the ouster of Mubarak.

The US embassy is built like a fortress, with a wall several yards high. But security has been scaled back in recent months, with several roadblocks leading to the facility removed after legal court cases by residents.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry promised to provide the necessary security for diplomatic missions and embassies and warned that "such incidents will negatively impact the image of stability in Egypt, which will have consequences on the life of its citizens".

One protester, Hossam Ahmed, said he was among those who entered the embassy compound and replaced the American flag with the black one. He said the group had now removed the black flag from the pole and laid it instead on a ladder on top of the wall.

"This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet," said another young protester, Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Egyptian police had removed the demonstrators who entered the embassy grounds. She also condemned the attack on the consulate in Libya "in the strongest terms".

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