Published February 06, 2006
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Muslim rage over caricatures of the prophet Muhammad grew increasingly violent Sunday as thousands of rampaging protesters — undaunted by tear gas and water cannons — torched the Danish mission and ransacked a Christian neighborhood. At least one person reportedly died and about 200 were detained, officials said.
Muslim clerics denounced the violence, with some wading into the mobs trying to stop them. Copenhagen ordered Danes to leave the country or stay indoors in the second day of attacks on its diplomatic outposts in the Middle East.
In Beirut, a day after violent protests in neighboring Syria, the crowd broke through a cordon of troops and police that had encircled the embassy. Security forces fired tear gas and loosed their weapons into the air to stop the onslaught.
The protesters, armed with stones and sticks, damaged police and fire vehicles and threw stones at a Maronite Catholic church in the wealthy Ashrafieh area — a Christian neighborhood where the Danish Embassy is located.
Flames and smoke billowed from the 10-story building, which also houses the Austrian Embassy and the residence of Slovakia's consul. Protesters waved green and black Islamic flags from broken windows and tossed papers and filing cabinets outside.
Witnesses said one protester, apparently overcome by smoke, jumped from a window and was rushed to the hospital. Security officials said he died.
Thirty people were injured, half of them members of the security forces, officials said, making it the most violent in a string of demonstrations across the Muslim world. All the injuries were from beatings and stones.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said before meeting with top Islamic leaders that about 200 people were detained, and police said they included 76 Syrians, 35 Palestinians and 38 Lebanese.
The first apparent victim of the political fallout from the violence was Interior Minister Hassan Sabei, who submitted his resignation. It was not immediately clear if the resignation was accepted.
Sabei said authorities had tried to prevent the protest from turning violent.
"Things got out of hand when elements that had infiltrated into the ranks of the demonstrators broke through security shields," he said. "The one remaining option was an order to shoot, but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens."
Sabei, like other Lebanese politicians and Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, suggested Islamic radicals had fanned the anger.
Kabbani said outsiders among the protesters were trying to "distort the image of Islam."
The United States accused the Syrian government of backing the protests in Lebanon and Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement that the resentment over the caricatures "cannot justify violence, least of all when directed at people who have no responsibility for, or control over, the publications in question."
The Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes to leave Lebanon. The violence Saturday in Damascus prompted a similar warning.
"The government has no intention to insult Muslims," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said on public radio in Copenhagen. "We are trying to explain to everyone that enough is enough."
The Syrian state-run daily newspaper Al-Thawra said Denmark was to blame because its government had not apologized for the September publication of the caricatures in Jyllands-Posten.
The drawings — including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse — have since been republished in several European and New Zealand newspapers as a statement on behalf of a free press.
In Malaysia, the editor of a small newspaper on remote Borneo Island resigned for reprinting the caricatures and, in a statement Monday, the newspaper apologized and expressed "profound regret over the unauthorized publication." The Sunday Tribune was the only newspaper in mainly Muslim Malaysia to reprint any of the caricatures.
Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.
Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he disapproves of the caricatures, but insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country's independent press.
Thousands also took to the streets elsewhere in the Muslim world and parts of Europe, including some 3,000 Afghans who burned a Danish flag and demanding that the editors at Jyllands-Posten be prosecuted for blasphemy.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged forgiveness.
"God instructs us to forgive. Therefore, we — as much as we condemn it strongly — must stay above this dispute and not bring ourselves ... to equating ourselves to those who have published the cartoons," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Stepping up the pressure, the Islamic Army in Iraq, a key group in the insurgency fighting U.S.-led and Iraqi forces, posted a second Internet statement Sunday calling for violence against citizens of countries where the caricatures have been published.
A Lebanese security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the press, said Danish diplomats had evacuated the mission in Beirut two days earlier, anticipating the protests.
The protesters, who came in buses from all over Lebanon, waved flags and banners.
"There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God!" they shouted as they pushed against riot police.
Many Muslim clerics were among them.
"Regretfully, the march did more harm to the prophet than it did good," said Sunni Sheik Ibrahim Ibrahim, who was in the crowd. He said he and others tried to stop the mob, but "we got stones and insults."
European leaders also urged calm and respect — both for religion and freedom of the press.
"The violence now, particularly the burning of Danish missions abroad, is absolutely outrageous and totally unjustified, and what we want to see is this matter being calmed down," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London, adding that the media must exercise its free speech privilege responsibly.
Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, issued an edict banning violence, saying it "harms Islam and Prophet Muhammad the same as the others (the publishers of the cartoons) did."
But Iran's Foreign Ministry announced Tehran had recalled its ambassador to Denmark, joining Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya in pulling diplomatic representatives.
Iraqi Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki also said his country would cancel its contracts with Danish firms and reject reconstruction money from Copenhagen.