Israel wary as protests engulf Muslim countries
Israel stepped up security after a controversial American film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests at U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan, as well as violence in Lebanon. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats were killed.
Several dozen protesters from the Islamic Movement’s northern branch demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sept. 13 and held posters with slogans such as “A film that demeans the Prophet Muhammad is a despicable and contemptible act,” “We love Muhammad,” and “We will sacrifice our blood and souls for Muhammad.”
Jerusalem police forces reinforced their presence in the capital due to the expected expansion of the protests. Hundreds of policemen secured the al-Aqsa mosque and other areas within the city. Protests also took place in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the U.S. to apologize “before the affront to the Prophet Muhammad in the film in question ignites a revolution in the Islamic nation to preserve the prophet’s honor.”
The intelligence leading up to the embassy attacks will be examined to “see if there was any way of forecasting this violence,” House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview Sept. 13.
President Barack Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Colorado, also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. “I want people around the world to hear me,” he said. “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”
As of Sept. 13, there was no intelligence indicating that what happened in Benghazi was planned, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the investigation into the attack. Intelligence officials said they believe it was more likely that the attack was “opportunistic or spontaneous,” with terrotists taking advantage of the demonstration to launch the assault. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly.
There is also no evidence that the attack was tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, one of the officials said. But the Libyan-based terrorist group Ansar al Shariah is the leading suspect for carrying out the violence, possibly with help from al-Qaida’s main African-based offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The officials said it may be hard to determine definitively which group was responsible, because many terrorists are members of both.
As far as protests go, it is virtually impossible to predict when a crowd might form and turn violent, according to retired U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who served as chief of mission at five posts, including Iraq, and is a former director of national intelligence.
“These things can be mobilized on the spur of the moment, set off by a spark,” especially in places such as Egypt and Libya where the ruling strongmen have just fallen, Negroponte said. “When you get rid of authoritarian regimes, there’s little or no institutional framework left …That’s why there's disorder and chaos” that is so easily hijacked, he said.
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood called for demonstrations after Friday prayers Sept. 14, as did authorities in Iran and the Gaza Strip. The White House said it was prepared for more protests but stressed that any violence would be unjustified.
“It is important to note that as these protests are taking place in different countries around the world, responding to the movie, that Friday, tomorrow, has historically been a day when there are protests in the Muslim world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Colorado. “And we are watching very closely for developments that could lead to more protests. We anticipate that they may continue.”
Around the world, U.S. missions issued warnings to Americans about demonstrations that could turn violent. More than 50 embassies and consulates released such alerts, the State Department said.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the attacks, saying there is “no justification and no legitimization for such violence.”
“We hope that all parties, governmental and non-governmental alike, will strive to restore calm and prevent the exploitation of the situation by extremist elements,” the Conference of President said in a statement.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the group affirms “the U.S. government’s statement that those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”
“The Jewish tradition is unequivocal in its belief that taking one life is akin to destroying the entire world,” Schonfeld said in a statement.
Jewish Council for Pubic Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “As a rabbi, American, and human being, I am shocked and heartbroken by this heinous attack.”
“People of goodwill everywhere should stand up and unequivocally condemn these cold blooded murders,” he said in a statement.
Sam Bacile—the name of the alleged producer of “Innocence of Muslims”—is a pseudonym, and the real producer is neither Israeli nor Jewish, according to reports.
“I don’t know that much about him,” said Steve Klein, a home insurance salesman from Riverside, Calif., who has been described in several media accounts as a consultant to the film, according to the Atlantic. “I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the fundamentalist Christian pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”
Californian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, confirmed that he was involved with “Innocence of Muslims.” Although he denied being Sam Bacile, a phone number called by the Associated Press matched Nakoula’s address. These findings suggest that the film may have been produced by Coptic Christians to protest their persecution in Muslim countries.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Bacile had originally identified himself as a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make the film. News outlets were unable to contact Bacile to confirm his identity.