Demonstrators angered over an amateur American-made film that mocks and insults Islam's Prophet Muhammad shot at and set fire to the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi Tuesday, killing a State Department officer.
In Egypt, protesters scaled the fortified walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, tore up an American flag and replaced it with an Islamic banner. The demonstrators there - mainly ultraconservative Islamists - continued their protest action through the early hours of Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that a U.S. official was killed in the Benghazi attack, which she condemned "in the strongest terms."
"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," Clinton said Tuesday night.
"But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind," she said in reference to the attacks.
The mobs were sparked by outrage over the film that U.S. media said was produced by Israeli-American Sam Bacile and financed by expatriate members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority group. Coptic leaders from around the world denounced the film.
Clips from the movie in English and Arabic recently posted on YouTube show the Prophet Muhammad as a child of undetermined parentage and portray him as a buffoon who advocates child abuse and extramarital sex, among other overtly insulting claims.
The Associated Press reported that Bacile - a real estate developer in California - went into hiding Tuesday. He described Islam as a "cancer," and said he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
The video gained international attention with its promotion by controversial Florida-based Christian Pastor Terry Jones, who said Tuesday the film was not designed to attack Muslims but to show the "destructive ideology of Islam."
Jones triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 by threatening to set fire to copies of the Quran and then burning one in his church.
Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper reported that a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Egyptian Islamist group, urged the U.S. government to prosecute the "madmen" behind the video.
Also Tuesday, Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque condemned a symbolic "trial" of the Prophet Muhammad organized by a U.S. group, including Jones.
At least 2,000 unarmed demonstrators had gathered Tuesday outside the embassy in the Egyptian capital, including Salafist Muslims and soccer fans who were involved in the political protests that brought down the former government.
By nightfall, a group of protesters had breached the wall, destroying the U.S. flag and replacing it with an Islamic banner. An embassy official told VOA no guns were drawn and no shots were fired during the incident. He said all the employees on the compound were safe.
In Benghazi, several dozen gunmen from the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia attacked the U.S. consulate there with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, then set it on fire.
The twin assaults were the first on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak in uprisings last year.
It is not clear if the two incidents were coordinated.
Benghazi, a stronghold of Islamist extremists and cradle of the revolution that saw strongman Gadhafi captured and killed last year, has seen a wave of violence in recent months, including attacks on Western targets, bombings of military buildings and the killings of army and security officers.
The protests coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters