CAIRO — Protesters angry over what they believed was an insult to Islam breached a wall of the U.S. embassy Tuesday, pulling down the American flag and raising Islamic banners in its place.
The protest began peacefully outside the embassy walls, with demonstrators shouting chants against a video they said was financed by Coptic Christians in the United States that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
But a handful of the demonstrators managed to jump over the embassy compound walls, tearing down the U.S. flag and raising black flags printed with Islamic religious inscriptions.
An official at the embassy said that contrary to a report in the Egyptian media, no guns were drawn and no shots fired during the incident. He said everyone is the compound was safe, and that most employees had left for the day before the protest began. No injuries were reported among the demonstrators.
Many of those in the crowd were Salafis, members of an ultra-conservative strain of Islam. Also on hand were hard-core football fans, known as Ultras, who were involved in the political protests that brought down the former government.
According to the demonstrators the video that angered them was scheduled to be aired on Tuesday, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. In Egypt, where about 10 percent of the population is Coptic, church leaders condemned the film. The U.S. embassy also issued a statement, rejecting actions that “abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
Protesters have attacked several foreign missions in Cairo over the past year, including the embassies of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Germany for a variety of reasons. Despite the incidents, security has been lightened in the Garden City neighborhood where the U.S. and other embassies are located, with long-standing checkpoints dismantled.
Anti-American sentiment has been on the rise since last year's revolution, while perceived insults to the Prophet Mohamed have sparked demonstrations across the region over the last several years.