United States Diplomatic Missions in Egypt and Libya Attacked

On Tuesday protesters in Egypt and Libya attacked U.S. diplomatic missions and led to the death of a State Department officer at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

While the U.S. diplomat has not been identified, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the death and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Tuesday evening.

The protests in Benghazi came after similar protests in Egypt where protestors made their way over the walls of the Cairo embassy and tore down the American flag before burning it, a move that was said to be in protest of a U.S. film that insulted the prophet Mohammed.

While the Al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned an event being organised by Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who set off riots in Afghanistan in 2010 after threatening to burn the Koran, in which there is a symbolic “trial” of the Prophet, it is not clear as to whether this or some other anti-Islam production was the trigger for the protest in Egypt or the violence in Libya.

Attack and Protests Linked

Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr, Libya’s Supreme Security Committee spokesperson, said that there was definitely a connection between the attack by gunmen in Libya and the protests in Cairo. However everyone is not so sure as a U.S. official in Washington said that there was no reason to believe that the incidents were linked.

The protests in Egypt are thought to have been related to Jones’ announcement that he had released a video promoting a film that portrayed the Prophet in a “satirical” manner. Over 2000 protestors gathered outside the Cairo embassy before the walls were breached and the U.S. flag torn down.

The attack in Libya however was of a far more violent nature. Heavily armed gunmen were shooting at the compound and many small fires burned throughout the buildings. Hurr said that their security forces had come under heavy fire and were not prepared for such an attack.

Sensitive Timing

Last week the U.S. announced that they were close to making a deal with Egypt’s government for $1bn in debt relief and they were also supporting Egypt’s application for a $4.8bn loan from the International Monetary Fund meaning that the protests have come at a very delicate time in U.S.-Egyptian relations.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “One of the things about the new Egypt is that protest is possible. Obviously we all want to see peaceful protest, which is not what happened outside the U.S. mission, so we’re trying to restore calm now.”

Nuland added that people should not draw too many conclusions about what has happened because there have been far more positive developments in the U.S. relationship with Egypt.

In response to the protest, the Egyptian government has said it will give all embassies the protection they need.

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