Libyan Authorities Make First Arrests In Connection With Benghazi Attacks

benghazi libyaA protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States September 11, 2012.

Photo: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

Libyan authorities say they have made arrests in the investigation into the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three state department staff dead.The news followed a call by the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, for political and religious leaders to stand up against violence over what she called a “disgusting, reprehensible and cynical” anti-Muslim film as protests spread across the Middle East and beyond.

“Some people have been arrested and are under investigation,” deputy interior minister Wanis Sharif told Reuters on Thursday. “We are gathering evidence.” He did not give further details

Demonstrators stormed the US embassy compound in Yemen on Thursday but were unable to break into the main building as police used tear gas and rubber bullets.

Fresh demonstrations took place at the American mission in Cairo, where the wave of protests first erupted on Tuesday, as Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood called for a million people to turn out after prayers on Friday.

More than 200 people were injured in clashes between the protesters and police in Tahrir square, according to the health ministry, and police vehicles were burned.

Smaller demonstrations were staged in Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia.

The protests came as Reuters reported that Libya’s interior ministry was saying arrests had been made as part of the investigation into the Benghazi attack.

But there were also signs that Arab leaders were seeking to placate Washington while publicly condemning the film – called Innocence of Muslims – which is widely considered crudely Islamophobic and blasphemous to believers.

Clinton said that although she believed the film, apparently made by a Coptic Christian living in California, was intended to “provoke rage”, it was no justification for the assaults on US missions there to promote international understanding.

“To us, to me, personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage,” she said. “Let me state very clearly – and I hope it is obvious – that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.”

But Clinton said it was a mistake for protesters to express their anger with violence and against US diplomatic missions.

“Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honour religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents,” she said.

“It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These are places whose very purpose is peaceful to promote better understanding across countries and cultures.”

She added: “Any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line.”

Clinton spoke following a conversation between Barack Obama and the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi. Morsi, who was slow to speak out after the attack on the US embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, pledged that Egypt will “honour its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel”, according to the White House.

But he also demanded the US act against the makers of the controversial film. “We condemn strongly … all those who launch such provocations and who stand behind that hatred,” Morsi said.

But growing US concern about the relationship was reflected in Obama’s comments to the Spanish-language network Telemundo in which he declined to describe the Egyptian government as an ally.

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident,” he said.

On Thursday, the White House moved to clarify the remarks. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable blog: “I think folks are reading way too much into this. ‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defence treaty with Egypt like we do with our Nato allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

Obama also called the Libyan president, Mohamed Magariaf, who promised to hunt down the culprits for the Benghazi attack and killing of Stevens and three other US officials.

Yemen’s president, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, apologised to the US for the embassy attack and vowed to track down the culprits, just as Libya’s president did.

Saudi Arabia condemned the film as “irresponsible”, but it denounced violent anti-American protests and expressed condolences to the US over the killings in Benghazi.

In Iraq, several hundred Shia Muslims protested in Baghdad’s Sadr City, where the leader of an Iranian-backed militia threatened attacks on US interests. In Tehran, an estimated 500 people chanted “Death to America!” and death to the film’s director.

As US officials attempted to establish whether the assault on the Benghazi consulate was a well planned and premeditated attack, the Pentagon deployed two destroyers to the Libyan coast in what was described as a move to give the Obama administration flexibility for any future action against Islamic extremists in Libya. A Marine Corps anti-terrorist team has also been deployed to the country to boost security.

State department officials were still trying to piece together precisely what happened in Benghazi when Stevens disappeared for several hours. American officials only discovered he was dead when his body was delivered to Benghazi airport.

Shocked residents of Benghazi turned out to protest against the attack that killed Stevens, who was regarded by many in the city as a friend of Libya.

Some Libyans are anxious that the US and west will back away from support for the country, and concerned that Libya will be thought of as a hotbed of Islamic extremism.

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