Death toll rises as protests rage over Muhammad-mocking video
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CAIRO -- The death toll ticked higher Friday as protests swept the world over a video insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, with reports emerging of casualties in Tunisia, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen as outraged protesters clashed with police near United States missions abroad.
Tunisian state media reported at least two protesters had been killed and 29 others were injured, including both protesters and police. A Tunisian employee of the American Embassy suffered a leg injury and was taken out on a stretcher, the Associated Press reported.
Lebanese state media earlier reported one person killed in Tripoli, where security forces had sought to scatter a crowd of angry protesters attempting to storm a government building. And in Sudan, where protesters broke past riot police to raise a black Islamic flag at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, witnesses told Agence France-Presse that two people had lost their lives.
Clashes a day earlier around the U.S. Embassy in Sana claimed the lives of four protesters and wounded 38 other people, the Yemeni Interior Ministry said Friday. Ten soldiers were reportedly among the injured after the Thursday assault and pillaging of the embassy, which led to the arrests of eight people in connection with the attack, Yemeni officials said.
Witnesses in Yemen said a fifth person was killed Friday as protests continued. Though religious scholars condemned the violence along with the Internet video in their Friday sermons, clashes flared on main roads and side streets as protesters tried unsuccessfully to reach the embassy.
“We will not stop till the U.S. ambassador leaves Yemen,” declared a young demonstrator dressed in white tribal robes with a dagger at his side. He carried a sign that read, “Defending the Prophet.”
Security forces used water and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators who carried banners reading, “This is your last day in Yemen, U.S. ambassador” and “The U.S. is the devil.” Protesters said an American aircraft could be seen over the capital. Teams of Marines were sent to bulk up security at U.S. embassies in Tripoli and Sana, the Pentagon announced Friday. A senior State Department official said the U.S. was working with its overseas missions and host governments to ensure the necessary resources to respond to the violence.
In Egypt, the Al Ahram state newspaper said at least 250 people had been wounded over the course of four days of skirmishes centered around the U.S. Embassy. As protests raged on Friday, roughly 1,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square to protest the insult to Islam, while around 300 more clashed with security forces pushing them away from the embassy.
[Updated 1:18 p.m. Sept. 14: A 28-year-old protester died Friday after being struck by rubber bullets to his throat and chest, his cousin told The Times. The man had joined protests after praying at Omar Makram Mosque, according to his cousin.]
The crowds were divided between peaceful protesters, summoned by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party in parliament, and a more violent group bent on confrontation and storming the American Embassy. Young men wishing to charge the U.S. Embassy hurled rocks against police, who fired canisters of tear gas, sending puffs of acrid smoke across downtown Cairo.
It was a back-and-forth as the more violent protesters charged the way to the U.S. Embassy blocked by police with riot shields. Every few minutes, the boom of tear gas canisters rang out. Wounded demonstrators were lifted into ambulances and more people would reinforce the few hundred fighters. Some men yelled at a man with a long knife tucked in his pants to stay away from the area and children, no older than 12, tied bandannas around their mouths as they picked up rocks and joined the scrum.
The Friday protests that spanned the Muslim world from Indonesia to Nigeria and a slew of other countries were initially triggered by the movie “Innocence of Islam,” which was filmed in Southern California and has been linked to Egyptian Christian activists living in the United States. Video clips of the movie available on YouTube mock Muhammad as a womanizer and a child molester.
Violence first broke out Tuesday in Egypt and Libya after the video had been dubbed into Arabic and aired on a religious television channel in Egypt. Four Americans were killed as Libyan militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
-- Ned Parker and Reem Abdellatif in Cairo, Zaid Ali in Sana and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles