KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Islamic militants sought yesterday to capitalize on anger over an anti-Islam video that was produced in the United States, saying a suicide bombing that killed 12 people in Afghanistan was revenge for the film and calling for attacks on U.S. diplomats and facilities in North Africa.
The attempt by extremists across the region to harness Muslim fury over a film that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad posed new concern for the United States, whose embassies and consulates have been targeted, and in some cases breached, during riots and protests over the past week.
At the same time, Western leaders welcomed statements by Middle East governments that condemned the violence against diplomatic facilities on their soil, even as they expressed anger over the video. Some of those governments replaced autocratic regimes in popular uprisings that swept the region, allowing for greater leniency toward protest.
At least 28 people have died in violence linked to the film in seven countries, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The toll also includes 12 protesters killed in riots over the film last week.
Some officials in Libya have said the attack on the consulate was planned in advance by militants. However, the White House said yesterday the assault appeared to have been sparked by anger over the film, though the investigation continues.
The crisis has become a major foreign policy challenge for Washington in the final weeks of a presidential election campaign that has largely focused on economic challenges. The uproar over the video, "Innocence of Muslims," which was made by an Egyptian-born American citizen and posted on YouTube, reflects seemingly intractable tension between Western principles of free speech and Islamic beliefs that brook no insult directed at the prophet.
The crisis offered fresh impetus for Islamic militants who have long plotted and carried out attacks on Western targets.
Yesterday's attack in Kabul, the Afghan capital, was carried out by a suicide bomber who rammed a car packed with explosives into a mini-bus carrying foreign aviation workers to the airport. At least 12 people died, including eight South Africans, three Afghans and a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.
A spokesman for the Afghan militant group, Hizb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the dawn attack and said it was carried out by a 22-year-old woman named Fatima. Suicide bombings carried out by women are extremely rare in Afghanistan, where few if any Afghan women drive cars.
"The anti-Islam film hurt our religious sentiments and we cannot tolerate it," spokesman Haroon Zarghoon told The Associated Press. "There had been several young men who wanted to take revenge, but Fatima also volunteered and we wanted to give a chance to a girl ... to tell the world we cannot ignore any anti-Islam attack."
Also, al-Qaida's branch in North Africa called for attacks on U.S. diplomats and an escalation of protests against the anti-Islam film. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb praised the killing of Stevens and urged Muslims to pull down and burn American flags at embassies, and kill or expel American diplomats to "purge our land of their filth in revenge for the honor of the Prophet."