WASHINGTON, D.C. — (DMN) – The FBI is warning of potential violence in the U.S. by extremists who may seek to “exploit anger” over an anti-Muslim film mocking the Prophet Mohammed. “First responders should remain aware of the potential for spontaneous large crowds and protests that could overwhelm resources and should be vigilant for possible efforts to encourage peaceful protesters to commit acts of violence,” said a Joint Intelligence Bulletin issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The warning went onto say that “the risk of violence could increase both at home and abroad as the film continues to gain attention.”
Authorities urged “faith-based organizations to promptly report suspicious activities that could indicate pre-operational plotting against Jewish, Coptic, Islamic, or any other faith-based communities.” The bulletin did not mention any specific threat information, but warned that “violent extremist groups in the United States could exploit anger over the film to advance their recruitment efforts.” The warning noted that the attacks against U.S. embassies in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed this week, “mirror past incidents prompted by events perceived as anti-Islamic, which spurred sudden violence against U.S. interests overseas.” The bulletin comes as new violence erupted at U.S. consulates in Egypt and Yemen. The State Department said it 50 overseas missions have been given additional security and warned U.S. citizens in their area to be “extra vigilant.”
Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen praised the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya in a Web statement Saturday and called for more attacks to expel American embassies from Muslim nations. The statement suggests al Qaeda was trying to co-opt the wave of angry protests in the Muslim world over a film produced in the United States denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. In a move to try to end the unrest, the top religious authority in Saudi Arabia said Muslims should not be “dragged by anger” into violence, suggesting the film could not truly hurt Islam. So far, there has been no evidence of a direct role by al Qaeda in the protests, which brought a flurry of attacks on American and other Western diplomatic missions this week. The protests have been fueled mainly by ultraconservative Islamists. But U.S. and Libyan officials are investigating whether the protests were a cover for militants to target the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi and kill Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Tuesday.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group in Yemen in known, said the killing of Stevens was “the best example” for those attacking embassies to follow. “What has happened is a great event, and these efforts should come together in one goal, which is to expel the embassies of America from the lands of the Muslims,” the group said. It called on protests to continue in Muslim nations “to set the fires blazing at these embassies.” In a separate statement, the group claimed that those who attacked the consulate in Libya were in part acting in anger over the killing in a U.S. drone strike earlier this year of Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s then-number two. “The killing of al-Libi only increased the enthusiasm and determination of the Libyan people to take revenge on those who belittled our religion and our messenger, so they stormed the American consulate and killed its ambassador, and they so, are rewarded by God, on behalf of Islam, the best reward,” the group said in a eulogy to al-Libi, posted Friday.
In the Saturday statement, the group also reached out to “our Muslim brothers in Western nations,” urging them “our Muslim brothers in the Western to fulfill their duties in supporting God’s prophet … because they are the most capable of reach them and vex them.” “If your freedom of speech is boundless, then let your chests bear the freedom of our actions.” Al Qaeda in Yemen is considered by the U.S. the most dangerous and active of the terror network’s affiliates after it plotted a series of attempted attacks on U.S. territory, including the Christmas 2009 failed bombing of a passenger jet. It has suffered a series of blows since, including the recent killing of its deputy leader in a drone strike. Yemen’s government, backed by the U.S., has been waging an offensive against the group, taking back territory and cities I the south that the group’s fighters seized last year.
On Friday, protests against the movie, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” spread dramatically, breaking out in 20 nations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. While peaceful in most places, the protests turned into assaults on U.S. and other Western embassies in Sudan and Tunis and violent clashes with police in several countries that left at least six dead. Yemen saw protests Friday and the day before, when protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy and tore down the American flag. Trying to contain the violence, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia said Saturday that “the film does not hurt the Prophet and Islam … We have to denounce it without anger.” “Muslims should not be dragged by wrath and anger to shift from legitimate to forbidden action and by this, they will, unknowingly, fulfill some aims of the film,” Saudi grand mufti Sheik Abdel-Aziz al-Sheik said.
Concerned about the reaction to an anti-Muslim film that was gaining attention online, the U.S. intelligence community sent a cable to the embassy in Egypt warning of the concern, a U.S. official told CNN. It was sent 48 hours before the protests in Cairo and Benghazi in Libya, the official said. The cable did not discuss any specific threat, the official said. It warned instead about the existence of the movie being posted on the internet and the fact that it was gaining attention. A seven minute portion of the movie aired on an Egyptian TV talk show the weekend before the protests started, according to a Department of Homeland Security/Federal Bureau of Intelligence memo obtained by CNN on Thursday.
The cable was not sent to the embassy in Tripoli, Libya or the consulate in Benghazi. US officials have said there was no intelligence ahead of the attack in Benghazi, which intelligence officials still believe was not planned. The White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday there was no “actionable intelligence” indicating an attack was being planned. There are hundreds if not thousands of cables sent each day, the official said, and there was no specific threat attached to this one, because a specific threat was not known.
Al-Jazeera, CBS News and CNN contributed to this report.