SANAA, Yemen Deadly outrage in the Arab world over a U.S.-made video insulting Islams founder spread to at least half a dozen places across the Middle East on Thursday and threatened to draw in Afghanistan, two days after assailants in Libya killed four U.S. diplomatic personnel, including the ambassador.
The worst of the violence was in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy and were repulsed by Yemeni security forces. The embassys entire staff, sensitive to impending danger, had been safely evacuated hours before, and Yemeni leaders apologized to President Barack Obama for the mayhem.
But some assailants were able to burn cars, plunder office equipment including computers, burn an American flag and hoist their own flag proclaiming fealty to Islam. Witnesses and Yemeni officials said at least 10 U.S. Embassy vehicles had been damaged or destroyed by fire.
By nightfall, witnesses said, smoke was still rising from the embassy compound in the eastern part of the capital, Sanaa, as protesters still raged 400 yards away.
In Egypt, where the anti-American anger began Tuesday over the previously obscure video, protesters scuffled with police officers firing tear gas, and news agencies reported that dozens of people were hurt. Demonstrations were also reported outside U.S. diplomatic facilities in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia where the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds and an anti-American protest was held in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
In Iran, where nearly all large protests must get government approval, witnesses and news reports said 500 Iranians screaming Death to America! converged outside the Swiss Embassy, which handles U.S. diplomatic interests, and were restrained by hundreds of police officers.
The authorities in Afghanistan, where deadly violence has chronically flared over perceived insults to Islam, scrambled to minimize the possibility that the offending video, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a perverted buffoon, could be viewed on the Internet and provoke new protests. Afghanistan officials said they had pressed for an indefinite suspension of access to YouTube, where the video had received more than 1.6 million hits by Thursday afternoon.
Little is known about the origin of the video that provoked the protests, which is called Innocence of Muslims. It was made in obscurity somewhere in Southern California and promoted by a network of right-wing Christians with a history of animosity toward Muslims. When a 14-minute trailer of it was posted on YouTube in June, it was barely noticed.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a strongly worded denunciation of the video in what her spokeswoman later said was an effort to quash the mistaken belief in some parts of the Arab world that the U.S. government somehow had sponsored or condoned it.
To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible, Clinton said at a briefing with Moroccos foreign minister at the State Department. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.
She went on to say that the Constitution did not allow the United States to prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day, and could not if it tried, given modern technology.
There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable, she said. We all whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders must draw the line at violence. And any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line.
The new violence came as news reports from Libya said the authorities there had made at least four arrests in connection with the killings of the four Americans in the mayhem that engulfed the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday night. FBI agents were also investigating the killings, a law enforcement official in Washington said.
The third of those four victims was positively identified by his family as Glen Doherty, 42, of Winchester, Mass., a former Navy SEAL working as a security officer. Doherty died along with the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and another diplomat, Sean Smith. The fourth American has not yet been publicly identified.
The Yemen protests came hours after a Muslim cleric, Abdul Majid al-Zindani, urged followers to emulate the protests in Libya and Egypt, Sanaa residents said. Al-Zindani, a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden, was named a specially designated global terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004.
The crowd gathered a day after the embassy warned Americans in a posting on its website, In the wake of recent events in Libya and Egypt, there is the possibility of protests in Yemen, and specifically in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy, in the coming days.
The U.S. Embassy continues to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid large gatherings. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens in Yemen are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly, the Web posting said.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi of Yemen said in a statement that he extended his sincere apologies to President Obama and to the people of the United States of America for the attack. Al-Hadi took office in February after his strongman predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, stepped down in November after months of violent protests.