Published September 17, 2012
Hundreds rallying around an anti-Islamic film continued protests throughout the Middle East Monday, burning cars and throwing rocks at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, torching a press club and a government building in northwest Pakistan and clashing with police outside the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. Police also tried to arrest a hardline Muslim leader -- reportedly wanted for violence in Tunisia -- who escaped after hiding inside a mosque in Tunis.
The protests were the latest in a week-long wave of violence sparked by the low-budget film, which portrays Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. Many of the incidents have targeted U.S. diplomatic posts throughout the Muslim world, including one that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, forcing Washington to ramp up security in select countries.
Protesters have directed their anger at the U.S. government even though the film was privately produced and American officials have criticized it for intentionally offending Muslims.
In Afghanistan, hundreds of people burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base in the capital, Kabul. Many in the crowd shouted "Death to America!" and "Death to those people who have made a film and insulted our prophet."
Police officers shot into the air to hold back about crowd of about 800 protesters and to prevent them from pushing toward government buildings downtown, said Azizullah, a police officer at the site who, like many Afghans, only goes by one name.
More than 20 police officers were slightly injured, most of them hit by rocks, said Gen. Fahim Qaim, the commander of a city quick-reaction police force.
Later in the day, protests broke out in other areas of Kabul, including the main thoroughfare into the city, where demonstrators burned shipping containers and tires. The crowd torched at least one police vehicle before finally dispersing, according Daoud Amin, the deputy police chief for Kabul province.
At a separate protest in front of a mosque in southwest Kabul, several dozen people shouted anti-U.S. slogans and called for President Barack Obama to bring those who have insulted the prophet to justice.
The rallies will continue "until the people who made the film go to trial," said one of the protesters, Wahidullah Hotak.
A number of Afghan religious leaders urged calm.
"Our responsibility is to show a peaceful reaction, to hold peaceful protests. Do not harm people, their property or public property," said Karimullah Saqib, a cleric in Kabul.
The Afghan government has blocked video-sharing website YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a clip of the anti-Muslim film. Officials have said it will remain blocked until the video is taken down. Other Google services, including Gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan during much of the weekend and access continued to be denied on some providers Monday.
German authorities are considering whether to ban the public screening of the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims" because it could endanger public security, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday. A fringe far-right political party says it plans to show the film in Berlin in November.
In Tunisia, a hardline Muslim who urged Tunisians to protest against the U.S. Embassy was holed up at one of the capital's main mosques, surrounded by police, before he reportedly escaped.
Hundreds of security forces had surrounded El Fateh mosque in Tunis, where Seif-Allah Ben Hassine had earlier denounced the Tunisian government and police for Friday's violence, claiming it was meant to be a peaceful demonstration.
An Associated Press reporter said Ben Hassine -- reportedly linked with an Islamist militant group in Libya -- escaped with hundreds of followers as they ran through security lines, clearly protecting his exit.
A police officer at the scene said the group exited following negotiations with authorities, but provided no further details. The security forces later withdrew from around the mosque. The officer wasn't authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified.
Ben Hassine is allegedly the head of the Tunisian branch of Ansar al-Shariah -- a suspect in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Several hundred demonstrators in Pakistan's northwest also clashed with police Monday after setting fire to a press club and a government building, said police official Mukhtar Ahmed. The protesters apparently attacked the press club in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province's Upper Dir district because they were angry their rally wasn't getting more coverage, he said.
Police charged the crowd, beating protesters back with batons, Ahmad said. The demonstrators then attacked the office of a senior government official and surrounded a local police station, said Ahmad, who was had locked himself inside with several other officers.
One protester died when police and demonstrators exchanged fire and several others were wounded, police official Akhtar Hayat said.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, hundreds of protesters clashed with police for a second day in the southern city of Karachi as they tried to reach the U.S. Consulate. Police lobbed tear gas and fired in the air to disperse the protesters, who were from the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Police arrested 40 students, but no injuries have been reported, said senior police officer Asif Ejaz Shaikh.
Pakistanis have also held many peaceful protests against the film, including one in the southwest town of Chaman on Monday attended by around 3,000 students and teachers.
In Jakarta, hundreds of Indonesians angered over the film clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy, hurling rocks and firebombs and setting tires alight outside the mission, marking the first violence seen in the world's most populous Muslim country since international outrage over the film exploded last week.
At least 10 police were rushed to the hospital after being pelted with rocks and attacked with bamboo sticks, said Jakarta Police Chief Maj. Gen. Untung Rajad. He said four protesters were arrested and one was hospitalized.
Demonstrators burned a picture of President Barack Obama and also tried to ignite a fire truck parked outside the embassy after ripping a water hose off the vehicle and torching it, sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police used a bullhorn to appeal for calm and deployed water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse the crowd as the protesters shouted "Allah Akbar," or God is great.
"We will destroy America like this flag!" a protester screamed while burning a U.S. flag. "We will chase away the American ambassador from the country!"
Demonstrations were also held Monday in the Indonesian cities of Medan and Bandung. Over the weekend in the central Java town of Solo, protesters stormed KFC and McDonald's restaurants, forcing customers to leave and management to close the stores.
The leader of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, organized a large protest in Beirut on Monday, after its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the U.S. must be held accountable for the film and protesters should also demand Arab governments pressure Washington to put a stop to it.
Nasrallah made a rare public appearance at the protest Monday.
A State Department status report obtained by The Associated Press said the Beirut embassy had "reviewed its emergency procedures and is beginning to destroy classified holdings." It also said that local Lebanese employees were sent home early due to protests.
The wave of international violence began last Tuesday when mainly Islamist protesters climbed the U.S. Embassy walls in the Egyptian capital of Cairo and tore down the American flag from a pole in the courtyard.
The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was killed Tuesday along with three other Americans, as violent protesters stormed the consulate in Benghazi. Protesters have also stormed the U.S. Embassies in Tunis and Yemen and held violent demonstrations outside other posts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.