By Tamim Elyan and Omar al-Mosmari
CAIRO/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Protesters in Egypt and Libya attacked U.S. diplomatic missions on Tuesday in a spasm of violence that led to the death of a State Department officer at the consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi after fierce clashes at the compound.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement late on Tuesday, confirmed the death of the U.S. diplomat, who was not identified, and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate, after a day of mayhem in two countries that raised fresh questions about Washington’s relations with the Arab world.
The violence in Benghazi followed protests in neighboring Egypt where protesters scaled the walls of the Cairo embassy and tore down the American flag and burned it during protests over what demonstrators said was a U.S. film that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
On Tuesday, Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned a symbolic “trial” of the Prophet organized by a U.S. group including Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who triggered riots in Afghanistan in 2010 by threatening to burn the Koran.
But it was not immediately clear whether it was the event sponsored by Jones, or another, possibly related, anti-Islam production, that prompted the melee at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and possibly the violence in Libya.
Whatever the cause, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties with Arab dictators who could be counted on to muzzle dissent.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in recent weeks had appeared to overcome some of its initial caution following the election of an Islamist Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi, offering his government desperately needed debt relief and backing for international loans. Read more…