Washington said it was deploying forces to cope with violence in as many as 18 different locations as deadly Muslim anger spreads over a US-made movie that mocks Islam.
Two US marines were killed in Afghanistan when insurgents armed with guns and rockets stormed a heavily fortified air base late on Friday in an attack that the Taliban militia said was to avenge the film.
The attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, which continued until yesterday morning, was a major security breach at a base where Britain’s Prince Harry is stationed and has been the target of specific death threats.
It came after at least six protesters died in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan on Friday as local police battled to defend US missions from mobs of stone-throwers.
Symbols of US influence in cities across the Muslim world came under attack — embassies and schools as well as fast food chains — as protesters vented their fury at the low-budget US-made YouTube film, Innocence of Muslims.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington was configuring its forces to be able to cope with widespread violence following its deployment of Marine counter-terrorism units to Libya and Yemen and its stationing of two destroyers off the North African coast.
“We have to be prepared in the event that these demonstrations get out of control,” Panetta told Foreign Policy magazine.
He did not offer any specifics, but the magazine said that the Pentagon was discussing, but had not yet decided whether to send a third platoon of 50 specially trained US Marines to protect the US embassy in Khartoum.
Guards on the roof of the embassy fired warning shots on Friday as the compound was breached by protesters waving Islamic banners, after earlier ransacking parts of the British and German missions in the Sudanese capital.
The US embassy compounds in Egypt and Yemen have also been breached in the past week, and on Tuesday, US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when a mob torched the consulate in Benghazi.
Panetta said on Friday that it was still too early to say exactly what happened in Benghazi where there have been suggestions that al-Qaeda sympathizers, rather than angry Muslim protesters, may have been responsible.
The deadly attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi was planned and “meticulously executed,” General National Congress of Libya President Mohamed Al Megariaf said yesterday.
“I don’t want to talk about what happened in other countries, but as for Libya, the operation was meticulously executed,” Al Megariaf said of the wave of protests across the world over a US-produced film mocking Islam.
“There was planning. It was not a peaceful protest which degenerated into an armed attack or aggression. That’s how it was planned,” he said.
Police in Sydney, Australia, fired pepper spray to contain protesters trying to enter the building housing the US consulate yesterday, as Australia became the the latest focus of disturbances.
Bottles, shoes and other objects were hurled during the clashes with police that resulted in eight arrests, with six police officers injured as the unexpected protest brought parts of the city to a standstill.
Shoppers looked on in surprise as protesters, including children, shouted: “Down, down USA” and waved banners such as “Behead all those who insult the Prophet.”