Anti-American rage that began this week over a video insult to Islam spread to nearly 20 countries across the Middle East and beyond Friday, with violent and sometimes deadly protests that convulsed the birthplaces of the Arab Spring revolutions, breached two more U.S. embassies and targeted diplomatic properties of Germany and Britain.
The broadening of the protests appeared to reflect a pent-up resentment of Western powers in general and defied pleas for restraint from world leaders, including the new Islamist president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, whose country was the instigator of the demonstrations that erupted three days earlier on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The anger stretched from North Africa to South Asia and Indonesia and in some cases was surprisingly destructive. In Tunis, a U.S.-run school that was untouched during the revolution nearly two years ago was completely ransacked. In eastern Afghanistan, protesters burned an effigy of President Barack Obama, who had made an outreach to Muslims a thematic pillar of his first year in office.
The State Department confirmed that protesters had penetrated the perimeters of the U.S. embassies in the Tunisian and Sudanese capitals, and said that 65 embassies or consulates had issued emergency messages about threats of violence, and that those facilities in Islamic countries were curtailing diplomatic activity. The Pentagon said it dispatched Marines to protect embassies
The wave of unrest not only increased concern in the West but also raised new questions about political instability in Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East countries where newfound freedoms, once suppressed by autocratic leaders, have given way to an absence of authority. The protests also seemed to highlight the unintended consequences of U.S. support of movements to overthrow those autocrats, which have empowered Islamist groups that remain implacably hostile to the West.
"We have, throughout the Arab world, a young, unemployed, alienated and radicalized group of people, mainly men, who have found a vehicle to express themselves," Rob Malley, the Middle East-North African program director for the International Crisis Group, a consulting firm, said in a telephone interview from Tripoli, Libya.
In a number of these countries, particularly Egypt and Tunisia, he said, "the state has lost a lot of its capacity to govern effectively. Paradoxically, that has made it more likely that events like the video will make people take to the streets and act in the way they did."
Some of the most serious violence targeted the compound housing the German and British embassies in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, causing minor damage to the British property but major fire damage to the German one. The foreign ministers of both countries strongly protested the assault, which The Associated Press said had been instigated by a prominent sheik exhorting protesters to storm the German Embassy to avenge what he called anti-Muslim graffiti on Berlin mosques.
The police fired tear gas to drive off the attacks in Khartoum, where about 5,000 demonstrators had massed, news reports said, before they moved on to the U.S. Embassy on the outskirts of the capital.
In Tunis, the U.S. Embassy was assaulted at midday by protesters who smashed windows and set fires before security forces routed them in violent clashes that left at least three dead and 28 injured. Witnesses and officials said no Americans were injured, and most had left earlier.
The worst damage was inflicted on the American Cooperative School of Tunis, a highly regarded institution that, despite its name, catered mostly to the children of non-American expatriates, nearly half of whom work for the African Development Bank. School officials, who had sent the 650 pupils home early, said a few protesters scaled the fence and dismantled monitoring cameras, followed by 300 to 400 others, who set the building on fire.
"It's ransacked," the director, Allan Bredy, said in a telephone interview. "We were thinking it was something the Tunisia government would keep under control. We had no idea they would allow things to go as wildly as they did."
Witnesses in Cairo said protests that first flared Tuesday grew in scope Friday, with protesters throwing rocks and gasoline bombs near the U.S. Embassy and the police firing tear gas. The Egyptian media said more than 220 people had been injured in clashes so far.
In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador, and three other Americans were killed Tuesday, militias fired rockets at what they thought were U.S. drones overhead, prompting the government to temporarily close the airport. The bodies of Stevens and the others killed were returned to the United States on Friday.
In Lebanon, where Pope Benedict XVI was visiting, one person was killed and 25 injured as protesters attacked restaurants. There was also turmoil in Yemen, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, Pakistan and Iraq, and demonstrations in Malaysia. In Egypt, in particular, leaders scrambled to repair deep strains with Washington provoked by their initial response to attacks on the U.S. Embassy, tacitly acknowledging that they erred by focusing far more on anti-American domestic opinion than on condemning the violence.