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Protesters attack U.S. embassy in Cairo

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 9:34 p.m.
Egyptian protesters climb the walls of the U.S. embassy during protests in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. Egyptian protesters, largely ultra conservative Islamists, have climbed the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, went into the courtyard and brought down the flag, replacing it with a black flag with Islamic inscription, in protest of a film deemed offensive of Islam. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

CAIRO — Egyptian protesters scaled the U.S. Embassy's security wall on Tuesday, pulling down the American flag and replacing it with the al-Qaida terrorist group's black banner.

In a similar attack in Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, was killed when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate in Benghazi to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob guns and rocket propelled grenades. Three other Americans were also killed.

Stevens is the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in an attack since 1979, when Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan.

In Cairo, more than a thousand Egyptians chanted outside the embassy's perimeter as scores of men entered the compound and spray-painted slogans on its walls.“Bin Laden” was painted on a sign above an embassy doorway — referring to the al-Qaida leader who directed the 9/11 attacks on American targets and who was killed by Navy SEALs in Pakistan in May 2011.Warned of the impending protest, most embassy staff had evacuated the compound and no injuries were reported.Frenzied demonstrators lowered the American flag, shredded it and burned pieces.Shouts of “God is great!” and “Oh America, wait, wait! The blood of the prophet Muhammad runs in our blood!” erupted from the crowd.The mob — dominated by ultra-religious Salafis and violence-prone soccer fans known as “Ultras” — were enraged over a little-known movie that dismisses the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, as a fraud.Several reports attributed the video to an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian living in America and to Terry Jones, a controversial Florida pastor whose threats to burn the Quran a year ago sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan. Jones announced that he planned to put the prophet on trial on Tuesday in what he called International Judge Muhammad Day.In a video announcing the “trial,” Jones, wearing a black shirt with the word “Infidel” printed on it in Arabic, said that he planned to charge the prophet “with being a false prophet, thus leading 1.6 billion people astray.”A Salafi satellite-TV channel here aired some clips of the video, and a Salafi leader called for protests outside the embassy; other clips have been posted on Internet sites.Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries. Salafis are the second-largest bloc in Egypt's parliament and partners of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood government headed by Mohamed Morsy. The two Islamic parties won power in elections as a result of the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president for three decades.Political observers were shocked by the embassy breach and wondered if the Morsy government was directly involved or tolerated the attack.Hani Shukrallah, a managing editor of Egypt's most influential newspaper, Al Ahram, said the embassy is “like a citadel,” and he was surprised it was overrun so easily.“We don't know how the Egyptian police are working and who they are taking orders from these days,” he said. “I have no idea whether (President) Morsy has control of these people or not. … It could be that the Morsy government is playing games.”In Libya, armed gunmen said to be protesting the film attacked the compound on Tuesday evening, clashing with Libyan security forces before the latter withdrew as they came under heavy fire.Unknown gunmen were shooting at the buildings while others threw handmade bombs into the compound, setting off small explosions. Small fires were burning around the compound.Libya's interim government has struggled to impose its authority on armed groups that have refused to lay down their weapons and often take the law into their own hands.A number of security violations have rocked Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city and the cradle of last year's revolt that toppled Moammar Gadhafi.Hisham Kassem, an Egyptian media publisher and human-rights advocate, said the embassy “usually has trucks of security around it” and described the protest as “pathetic.”“Either (President) Morsy really thinks this is the way to uphold their ideology outright, or he is just plain stupid,” Kassem said, suggesting government involvement.“There should have been security preparations for this protest. This is a security failure,” he said.Egypt remains a key U.S. ally in the region and the second-largest recipient of its foreign aid — $1.3 billion annually, most of it for the military.U.S. officials have maintained cordial relations with Morsy since his election in June, despite concern in the West that his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation will radicalize Egypt and lead to Islamic rule in the most populous Arab nation.Morsy recently met with a large American business delegation, urging it to invest here. Egypt's economy has ground to a near-halt since the unrest of 2011.The U.S. Embassy released a statement before the protest, condemning “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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