Arab Protests Ease After Violence Fueled by Anti-Muslim Film

Protests against a film denigrating Islam eased after mobs stormed the American embassy compound in Tunisia and targeted diplomatic missions in Sudan and Yemen.

Clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square stopped yesterday after Egypt’s main Islamist groups called for calm. Police secured the square and arrested 220 people, the country’s Interior Ministry said in a statement. In Tunis, where smoke billowed from the U.S. embassy on Sept. 14, a high security presence deterred protesters from taking to the streets.

The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency personnel and dependents to leave Sudan and Tunisia, according to travel warnings posted yesterday that cited attacks on embassies in Tunis and Khartoum.

The days of turmoil across the Arab and Muslim world put new leaders in nations such as Tunisia and Egypt on the defensive as Islamists showed their power to exploit popular discontent. The violence also kept President Barack Obama under pressure over his support for the Arab revolutions known as the Arab Spring and over questions about whether his administration was caught unprepared for the threats to U.S. personnel and property.

“It would appear there’s some leveling off on the violence that we thought might take place,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters aboard a U.S. military plane on his way to Asia today. “Having said that, we have to continue to be very vigilant because these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer.”

Benghazi Attack

The bodies of the four Americans killed in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were returned to the U.S. Sept. 14 in a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid tribute to the fallen Americans, including slain ambassador Christopher Stevens, who played a pivotal role in helping Libyan rebels topple the Muammar Qaddafi dictatorship.

“Even as voices of suspicion and mistrust seek to divide countries and cultures from one another, the United States of America will never retreat from the world,” Obama told an audience of more than 200 in an open hangar.

Investigations are still under way to determine who or which groups carried out the attack in Libya, Panetta said today adding that the government of Libya is assisting in the effort.

Planned Attack

Mohammed Yussef Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, said in an interview on Sept. 14 with Al Jazeera that the attack in Benghazi was the work of “experienced masterminds” who had planned well in advance.

A California man associated with the online movie clip that sparked the protests was questioned by U.S. authorities investigating whether he violated terms of his parole. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was escorted from his Cerritos, California, home early yesterday, according to Lieutenant Kim Manatt, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Nakoula pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay $794,700 in restitution, according to the June 24, 2010, sentencing document by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder in Los Angeles. Nakoula spent time in federal prison before being released from a halfway house in December 2010, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Under the terms of his release, Nakoula is prohibited from representing himself with anything other than his true legal name, and is barred from using the Internet without permission from his probation officer.

Seeking Calm

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said yesterday that Muslims have the right to condemn “acts of defamation” against Islam without resorting to violence and the destruction of property, according to a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency. Saudi Arabia didn’t witness protests against the film.

In Cairo, where calls for a mass rally Sept. 14 had raised concerns that violence would escalate in the Arab world’s most populous nation, more than 1,000 people -- including members of President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood -- headed toward the U.S. embassy after Friday prayers, seeking to calm the situation.

Justice Without Blood

“We will get justice for the prophet, but without blood,” Mazhar Shahine, a prominent cleric, told the crowd, referring to the made-in-America movie that sparked the protests. Protesters skirmished into the night with police, and Al Jazeera reported two died.

In Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, the police presence was high around the U.S. embassy yesterday. Protesters penetrated the U.S. embassy grounds Sept. 14 after scaling the walls, and a cloud of smoke hung over the compound. Tunisian security forces fired shots and entered the embassy grounds, chasing the demonstrators, who didn’t get into the main embassy building.

President Moncef Marzouki asked Tunisians to denounce the violence and groups behind it, Al Arabiya television reported.

In Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, Germany’s embassy was set afire Sept. 14 and crowds also gathered outside U.S. and British missions. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin that all personnel at the embassy in Sudan were safe.

Sudan rejected a U.S. request to send Marines to increase security at the embassy, according to SUNA, Sudan’s official news agency.

Sudan’s government “has recommitted itself both publicly and privately to continue to protect our mission,” Victoria Nuland, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. As a result of the Sept. 14 damage to the embassy “we have requested additional security precautions” and “we are continuing to monitor the situation closely,” she said in the statement.

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