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Two killed as Tunisia protest against film spirals into violence

September 14, 2012 |  2:51 pm

TUNIS, Tunisia –- Two protesters were killed Friday after a massive protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis descended into chaos when protesters scaled an embassy wall and set off a huge explosion with a Molotov cocktail.

Tunisian officials condemned the attack Friday night. President Moncef Marzouki called for Tunisians to behave responsibly and respect its diplomatic relations. Marzouki vowed to punish those who broke into the compound.

Protesters blamed Tunisian security forces and the West for the violence. "American and European leaders didn’t apologize for making fun of the prophet," said Rida, a clean-cut 22-year-old university student.  "I didn’t want this to become violent, but the fact it got violent was the fault of the police and the secular parties and the American officials. We were only protecting our faith and our religion. We will do anything to defend our faith."

PHOTOS: Protesters attack U.S. embassies, consulate

Thousands of protesters thronged outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital after Friday prayers, waving banners that read "There is no god but Allah" and "We will have revenge for our prophet," in an angry protest against an online video mocking Muhammad.

The Tunis protest, advertised on Facebook and through local Salafist groups, was largely peaceful as it first gathered Friday afternoon at the embassy. About 300 police officers lined the area to hold back the protesters, who came from two ultra-conservative mosques and a poor neighborhood.

About an hour into the protest, however, a few men scaled a wall into the embassy parking lot and set a car ablaze with a Molotov cocktail. The flames set off a big explosion that destroyed several cars, sending an ominous cloud over the embassy.

TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

The protest swelled from 1,500 people to about 5,000 as more people joined from a nearby slum. As the throng pushed forward, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. The crowd hurled rocks at the police.

Wind pushed the stinging gas toward the police as protesters tried to charge toward the front of the embassy. A firebomb burned a small section of the main building as two Marine snipers could be seen peering from the roof.

Military and police reinforcements arrived and fired off more rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets as the protesters advanced. At least eight people fell down in the crowd; the Tunisian state news agency later reported that  two were killed and 29 were wounded in the clashes.

During the melee, more protesters scaled the embassy wall into the parking lot and pulled down an American flag, raising a black militant Islamic flag. People were seen fleeing the area carrying off laptops. A neighboring American school was also ransacked and set afire.

The amateurish film that depicted Muhammad as a bloodthirsty sexual deviant set off impassioned and sometimes violent demonstrations across the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere this week. Militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday, killing four Americans, including the ambassador. 

The Tunisian protesters were among several people reportedly killed during the Friday demonstrations around the world, with other deaths reported in Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan.


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-- Radhouane Addala in Tunis and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles