Current events: Embassy unrest

Robert Gray, Staff Writer

On September 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, United States diplomatic missions in several Middle Eastern states became the target of both violent and nonviolent protests. Other Western nations’ embassies were also attacked as the protests spread from Egypt and Libya, eventually occurring throughout the entire Middle East, as well as parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The first incidence of protest occurred in Cairo, Egypt. There, protestors stormed the walls of the American embassy and tore down the American flag. It was replaced with a black flag, often used as a symbol of Islam by radical groups. Protests in Cairo continued on into the next day, with one fatality and over two hundred nonfatal injuries.

The protests were in response to the airing of a defamatory series of trailers for a movie known as “The Innocence of Muslims.” Created by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in the United States, and several other Middle Eastern Christian evangelicals, it depicts the Prophet Muhammed as an adulterer, bandit, and child molester. It is important to note that these allegations are false and ahistorical. One of the chief demands of the protestors in Egypt was that the film be taken out of circulation. Mr. Nakoula was taken in for questioning by US officials.

The violence at the American consulate in Benghazi was far more serious. This violence can be broken down into two types. The first was spontaneous violence emanating from the protestors, relating to “The Innocence of Muslims.” The second form, the actual attack on the embassy, was perpetrated by a group of heavily-armed Islamic militants. Al-Qaeda has taken credit for the assault. The attackers stormed the compound shouting “God is great,” and used hand grenades, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. The American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, American private security guard Glen Doherty and former U.S. Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods were killed, and several Libyan security force members were injured. Two more Americans were killed when a squad of troops sent to assist at the embassy came under sustained fire from militants. According to Reuters, Libyan officials consider that the attacks in Benghazi were planned prior to the protests.

Counter-protests, in support of the American government and the Americans who were killed, were held the following day. The aim of the protests also included voicing discontent with the various militias active in the country. These groups assisted in the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, but have refused to disarm. During the first round of demonstrations, protestors stormed the headquarters of the Ansar al-Sharia militia, forcing them to flee and assisting security forces in sweeping their headquarters. According to the Washington Post, the Libyan President President Mohammed el-Megarif, the government forced ten militias to disband, and has vowed to crack down on Islamic extremism.