Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on Thursday slammed a film deemed to mock the Muslim prophet but warned against the use of violence as angry crowds pelted the US embassy in Cairo.
Police fired teargas to disperse the latest protest by stone- and bottle-throwing demonstrators, which came after a night of sporadic clashes and as Yemeni demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Sanaa before being expelled by police.
“We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who… insult our prophet,” Morsi said in remarks broadcast by state television in reference to the controversial film.
“(But) it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad,” said the president, who is on a visit to Brussels.
“I call on everyone to take that into consideration, not to violate Egyptian law… not to assault embassies,” he added, referring to a Tuesday assault on the US mission in Cairo in which protesters tore down the Stars and Stripes and replaced it with a black Islamic flag.
Morsi condemned an attack the same evening on the US consulate in Benghazi in neighbouring Libya, which claimed the lives of four American officials, including the ambassador.
“We condemn what happened in Benghazi,” Morsi said.
“We all know that killing innocent people goes against Islam. The freedom to express opinions and demonstrate… are guaranteed but without attacks on private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies.”
Morsi said that he had spoken with US President Barack Obama and told him that it was necessary to put in place “legal measures which will discourage those seeking to damage relations… between the Egyptian and American peoples.”
Armoured vehicles were deployed around the US embassy in Cairo on Thursday, an AFP correspondent reported.
The health ministry said 16 people were injured during sporadic clashes outside the embassy during the night.
Protests against the film “Innocence of Muslims” were also held on Wednesday outside US missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. In Tunis, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred.
The low-budget movie, in which actors have strong American accents, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.
It pokes fun at the Prophet Mohammed and touches on themes of paedophilia and homosexuality, while showing him sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as “the first Muslim animal.”
Mystery has deepened over the film, with conflicting accounts from backers and promoters but no one owning up to having actually directed it.
US media initially cited someone claiming to be an American-Israeli calling himself Sam Bacile as saying he made the film on a $5 million budget with the help of 100 Jews, but no record of such a person has been found.
Coptic Christians have been accused of promoting an Arabic-adapted version of the English-language film in Egypt, where clips were shown on an Egyptian television channel at the weekend, apparently setting off the protests.
And a late Wednesday report cited by US media identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula as saying he managed the company that produced the film, and that he was a Coptic Christian.
Obama called Libyan as well as Egyptian leaders to review security cooperation following the violence, the White House said.
Obama urged Egypt to uphold its commitments to protect US diplomats and called on Libya to work with US authorities to bring those behind the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi to justice.
“President Obama underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing US diplomatic facilities and personnel,” it said.
Both attacks were initially believed to have been motivated by outrage over the US-made amateur Internet film, but US officials later said the Benghazi attack might have been a planned, pre-meditated assault by jihadist militants among the crowd.