TUNIS, Tunisia – Violent protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis against an anti-Muslim film were met with tear gas and gunshots Friday, leaving two people dead, around 40 others injured and plumes of black smoke wafting over the city.
Several dozen protesters briefly stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Tunisia's capital, tearing down the American flag and raising a flag with the Muslim profession of faith on it as part of the protests. Protesters also set fire to and looted an American school adjacent to the embassy compound and prevented firefighters from approaching it. The school appeared to be empty and no injuries were reported.
Earlier, several thousand demonstrators had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy, including stone-throwing protesters who clashed with police, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene. Police responded with gunshots and tear gas. Police and protesters held running battles in the streets of Tunis. Amid the unrest, youths set fire to cars in the embassy parking lot and pillaged businesses nearby.
The state news agency TAP, citing the health ministry, said both of those killed were demonstrators, while the injured included protesters and police. Two of the injured were in critical condition, the health ministry said.
A Tunisian employee of the U.S. Embassy who had an injured leg was taken out on a stretcher to an ambulance. It wasn't immediately clear if there were any other injuries. Embassy officials did not respond to calls and emails.
The group that breached the U.S. Embassy's outer wall was eventually pushed back outside by a huge deployment of police and special forces. As night fell, the crowd of protesters outside the embassy dwindled to a handful.
The al-Wataniya 1 television station said the presidential guard also intervened and escorted the U.S. ambassador and about 80 embassy personnel away from the site to safety.
Crowds angry over an anti-Muslim film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad have assaulted U.S. embassies across the Middle East.
The degree of violence in Tunisia surprised many and raised new questions about the direction of the country, where an uprising last year forced out its longtime president and set off pro-democracy revolts across the Arab world. A once-banned Islamist party came to power in elections last year, but the moderate government has struggled to quell protests by increasingly vocal ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis.