NEW: Thousands protest in Falluja; Bangladesh blocks YouTube due to video
Demonstrations occur in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan
They join those who'd protested a video that mocks the Prophet Mohammed
A U.S. Muslim leader says there should be "no reaction to such an insignificant production"
Read a version of this story in Arabic
Protests sparked by an online film that mocks Islam’s holy prophet entered a second week Monday, raising questions about whether the furor is isolated or a sign of broader anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.
On Monday, demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Answering a call from the leader of Hezbollah – deemed a terrorist organization by the United States – thousands packed the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs and chanted “Death to America!”
Monday’s protests weren’t on the scale as those last week, nor did they provoke the same level of international crisis by endangering U.S. diplomatic missions. Still, the fact the demonstrations are continuing – and that they have occurred, now, in more than 20 countries – suggests the anti-American furor tied to the inflammatory film isn’t going away.
Plus, the issue has provided political fodder for Islamist leaders including Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, who had urged people to protest Monday against the film.
Speaking to largely peaceful crowd in Beirut, some of them waving the yellow flag of Hezbollah, Nasrallah asked the protesters and, in fact, all Muslims worldwide to push for laws to criminalize “insulting monotheistic faiths and their great prophets, from Abraham to Moses to Jesus and Mohammed.”
“The world until now cannot comprehend … the degree of insult this disgusting film caused to the Prophet Mohammed,” he added.
Earlier in the day in Afghanistan, hundreds of demonstrators attacked police officers along a road leading to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In neighboring Pakistan, at least one person died when protesters clashed with police in an anti-American demonstration in the tribal region along the Afghan border.
In Iraq, hundreds of protesters in Falluja, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) west of Baghdad, demanded the U.S. ambassador’s expulsion from the country and a boycott of American products. The protesters carried flags and banners, including one that read, “It’s time for all Muslims around the world to stand together against the enemy of Islam.”
And in Indonesia, protesters threw rocks and used slingshots to launch marbles at riot police outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Police responded with tear gas.
The United States has made it clear that it did not sanction the low-budget, amateurish 14-minute movie trailer posted on YouTube and produced privately in the United States. The clip, which has been banned by YouTube in several countries, mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.
Islam forbids any depictions of Mohammed, and blasphemy is taboo among many in the Muslim world.
The film clip was relatively obscure until last Tuesday, when rioters breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and upset protesters attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
A wave of protests since then has rippled from Morocco to Malaysia, spurring U.S. officials to increase security at diplomatic missions and demand other governments to take action.
U.S. ambassador: Protests have ‘nothing to do with’ U.S.
The demonstrations are part of inevitable turbulence in a region that has undergone tremendous change over the past year, said the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
“It’s a change that the United States has backed because we understand that when democracy takes root, when human rights and people’s freedom of expression can be manifested, it may lead to turbulence in the short term. But over the long term, that is in the interest of the United States,” she told CNN on Sunday.
Appearing on several Sunday talk shows, Rice contended that the mobs outside U.S. embassies – particularly in nations like Egypt, that have strong ties to the United States – are a minority and “have largely lost in these emerging democratic processes.” As U.S. officials have pointed out, the number of protesting outside U.S. diplomatic missions represent a fraction of the populations in their countries.
“And just as the (majority of) people of these countries are not going to allow their lives to be hijacked by a dictator, they’re not going to allow an extremist mob to hijack their future and their freedom,” she said.
Rice insisted the protests are nothing more than outrage over the online video.
“This is not an expression of hostility in the broadest sense toward the United States or U.S. policy,” Rice told Fox News. “It’s proximately a reaction to this video – and it’s a hateful video that had nothing to do with the United States and which we find disgusting and reprehensible.”
But that is not the view of an independent American Islamic organization, whose executive director said the issue has gone beyond sensitivity over the “Innocence of Muslims.”
“The film was just an excuse to lead to these kind of riots in the street,” Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress told CNN.
She urged U.S. government officials to pressure officials in countries where demonstrations have taken place to control their people.
“The only language that they do understand over there is the pressure that comes from the government,” she said.
Investigation into ambassador’s killing
Libya has taken steps to arrest those responsible for last week’s deadly consulate attack, bringing in dozens for questioning over the weekend, Libyan officials said. The exact number of arrests was unclear. One Libyan official said those arrested included suspects from Mali and Algeria, as well as al Qaeda sympathizers.
Wanes al-Sharif, a deputy interior minister whose jurisdiction included eastern Libya, was fired one day after the Benghazi attack, according to documents obtained Monday by CNN. No reason was given for al-Shari’s dismissal. Notably, he told reporters after the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi assault that he’d ordered a security force mobilized during the unrest “to leave the area because of the large number of protesters.”
The debate, meanwhile, continues as to whether this attack was planned or spontaneous.
Mohamed al-Magariaf, the head of Libya’s General National Congress said there was “no doubt” the attack was premeditated, telling CBS on Sunday that it “was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.”
But an unnamed senior Libyan government official said there has been no evidence to indicate the attack was planned, or that al Qaeda was involved. And he disputed al-Magariaf’s estimate that 50 people were arrested over the weekend, saying the number was much lower.
Echoing White House statements from last week, U.S. diplomat Susan Rice also said U.S. authorities have no evidence the Benghazi attack was “premeditated.”
If it was planned, that could indicate a more potent anti-U.S. hostility in Libya – despite Rice’s assertion that the United States is “quite popular in Libya, as you might expect, having been a major partner in their revolution.”
The FBI is also investigating the Libya attack but has yet to enter the country because of volatility there. In the meantime, FBI agents are interviewing witnesses outside Libya, federal law enforcement officials said.
While U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters over the weekend that the worst of the violence appeared to be over, the United States is maintaining tight security anyway.
Nonessential personnel have been ordered to leave American diplomatic missions in Sudan, Tunisia and Libya. In Yemen, consular services have been suspended until the end of the month. And Monday, the U.S. State Department – citing “current safety and security concerns” – urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon.
But the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the scene of five consecutive days of protests, returned to full staffing Sunday, the U.S. State Department said.
Filmmaker in hiding, video blocked
Federal officials say the man behind the film that sparked worldwide protests is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a convicted felon with a history of using aliases to hide his actions. Nakoula is on probation for bank fraud.
Nakoula and his family have left their Cerritos, California, home for an unidentified location, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department said Monday.
Reports that Nakoula, who initially told The Wall Street Journal he was an Israeli, is a Coptic Christian have raised concern about a possible backlash against the minority religious group in Egypt, where tensions between Copts and Muslims have risen recently.
Nakoula denied that he made the film, according to Bishop Serapion, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, citing a phone conversation with him last week. At a news conference Monday, the Coptic leader condemned violence by protesters which, he said, “only serves to continue the hate.”
“There should have been no bloodshed,” echoed local Muslim leader Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, at the same Los Angeles event. “As a matter of fact, there should have been no reaction to such an insignificant production.”
Despite U.S. government officials’ firm condemnation, some in the Muslim world – especially those raised in regimes in which the government must authorize any film – cannot accept that a movie like “Innocence of Muslims” can be made without being sanctioned by Washington, said Council of Foreign Relations scholar Ed Husain.
“They’re projecting … their experience, their understanding (that) somehow the U.S. government is responsible for the actions of a right-wing fellow,” said Husain, a senior fellow at the New York think thank.
A day after the protests broke out, YouTube announced it was restricting access to the video and since then, Google India has blocked access. (Google is YouTube’s parent company.) Afghanistan and Pakistan have also ordered an indefinite block of YouTube to prevent people there from watching the clip.
Bangladesh joined them Monday night is restricting YouTube access in the wake of protests in that Asian nation, a senior officer with the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said and the state-run BSS news service likewise reported.
But if the ongoing protests are about more than just a low-budget film clip, these moves may do little to curb the violence.
“It’s a bigger picture than the film only,” warned
Zainab Al-Suwaij, of the American Islamic Congress, warned those behind the protests have “a lot of other political goals” and are using the film as “just an excuse.”
“The political goals that these radical groups have … are much bigger than just bad quality film that’s been put on YouTube,” she said.
CNN’s Jomana Karadesh, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Miguel Marquez, Anna Coren, Nasir Habib, Reza Sayah, Jessica King, Chelsea J. Carter, Tom Watkins, Greg Botelho and journalist Farid Ahmed contributed to this report.