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Details on Embassy Attacks, How an Anti-Muslim Video Has Arab Muslims Riled

September 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Judy Woodruff talks to McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy Youssef for a detailed account of the attacks in Libya and to freelance journalist Bel Trew who reports on the protests in Cairo. Then, Jeff Brown talks to the Los Angeles Times' Rebecca Keegan for more on the anti-Muslim film that has sparked violence in the Middle East.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers has been reporting on the attack in Benghazi. She’s based in Cairo. And that’s where I reached her by phone just a short time ago.

Nancy Youssef, you have been talking to a colleague of yours about what happened in Benghazi Tuesday night. What have you learned?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: We spoke to one of the first guards that the attackers encountered.

He said that around 9:35 p.m., he was standing outside, and men pulled up and started throwing grenades into the compound, setting things ablaze.

At the same time, he estimated as many as 120 men came from all sides into the compound. They were screaming, as in, you’re an infidel, you’re working with the Americans.

And they began moving into one of the villas within the compound. He said that it was well-coordinated. He said that they were overrun, that he was one of about five contracted security guards and that they were accompanied by members of the 17th of February Brigade, which is a Libyan brigade that emerged during the revolution last year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Associated Press is reporting that there may have been infiltrators inside Libyan security forces that shared the whereabouts of this so-called safe house that was about a mile away from the consulate in Benghazi. Have you been able to learn anything about that?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Libyans had — knew where that compound was, knew that it was occupied by the Americans. It was a place that Ambassador Stevens had invited Libyans to meet with him at. So it was a known location.

Now, it’s certainly possible that there were people who infiltrated and told them what the security situation was there, that is, how are they trying to defend themselves, perhaps where the ambassador may have been.

Again, it was a huge complex with several villas within it. So that’s certainly a possibility.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s interesting.

Well, Nancy Youssef, a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers based in Cairo, thank you very much for talking with us.

NANCY YOUSSEF: My pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also in Cairo tonight, police were firing tear gas canisters at demonstrators near Tahrir Square.

I spoke to freelance journalist Bel Trew as events unfolded outside.

You were in Tahrir Square today. Tell us what you were seeing.

BEL TREW, freelance journalist: Right now, what we’re seeing is still several hundred protesters on the streets fighting with the police, as they have been doing since midnight yesterday.

Recently, in the last 10 minutes, things have actually escalated, as you can probably hear in the background — we’re actually standing above the front lines — where significant amount of tear gas were being shot at protesters and with exchanges of rocks.

At the moment, the protesters have built a barricade just below us, and are attempting to fight the police. I don’t think this is going to end any time soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are the protesters shouting? What can you hear? What they — and have you talked to them? Do you know what they’re asking for?

BEL TREW: It’s a confusing message, and it has been really, because since — I mean, the Tuesday protest that initially started this whole thing was against this inflammatory film, as everyone has been talking about, the anti-Islam film.

And that was a very different crowd. They were ultra-conservative Muslims in traditional Islamic dress.

Since yesterday, when the clashes broke out, it was a much younger crew. We’re looking at possible — possibly the ultras, hard-core football fans. And certainly I have heard their traditional chants, their songs.

But we’re still hearing some Islamic undertone to the chants. They have been saying — they have been chanting about Prophet Mohammed, not insulting Prophet Mohammed, interspersed with chants against the police and their behavior, calling them thugs.

So there’s a mixed grievances at the moment. I think people are actually quite disappointed with the way the police have reacted to their protests.

And that has also become quite a major issue right now, especially as this is the first major clash we have had since President Morsi took power. And people were hoping there would be some reform of the police with a president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do these protests seem to be organized?

BEL TREW: No, I don’t think there’s any — I haven’t come across, as I have spoken to protesters, any specific groups who called this.

Obviously in the beginning, there was the Salafists calling — there was other Islamic groups that had asked people to go to the embassy in protest of this inflammatory film.

At the moment, we’re seeing really some disparate youths predominately, especially as it’s quite late now in Cairo. And they don’t seem to have any affiliation to each other.

In fact, people actually told me specifically that they weren’t part of a political group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, how is the government, how is the police — how are they dealing with this?

BEL TREW: What we’re seeing actually is quite similar tactics that were used during the Mubarak regime and also during the military transitional period, which is quite heavy-handed use of tear gas, of bird shot pellets, and also, as I said, throwing rocks at protesters.

It doesn’t really seem that they actually want to stop the protests or make it more peaceful. They seem to be inciting more response from the protesters by being quite violent.

Other than that, we haven’t really had any other direction from the government in terms of how to stop this.

President Morsi obviously condemned non-peaceful protests, but he continues his travels through Europe and actually hasn’t come home, which many have criticized.

So — and, actually, the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, which is the president’s organization, have organized a massive protest tomorrow in Tahrir against the film, and which we’re hoping will be peaceful, unlike the clashes that we’re seeing right now.

Otherwise, I don’t think — we haven’t seen any real signs of the government trying to stop the fighting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bel Trew, a freelance journalist in Cairo, thank you very much.

BEL TREW: You’re welcome.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now we turn to another side of this story playing out in Southern California, the film that helped spark the violence in the Middle East.

That comes from Rebecca Keegan of The Los Angeles Times.

Rebecca, there’s been a lot of mystery to many aspects of this. What’s the latest on who made this film and with what motives?

REBECCA KEEGAN, The Los Angeles Times: Well, we know that the person who posted this movie on YouTube under the name Sam Bacile is someone who actually goes by a lot of pseudonyms, has a kind of checkered legal and financial past, and is associated with some Coptic Christian groups in the U.S. that have been involved in some anti-Islam activities.

We also know that the actors and the people who appeared in it had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, for anybody who’s seen it, it’s an extremely amateurish film, right? And is it clear what it was aimed at or who, who it was aimed at, what kind of audience?

REBECCA KEEGAN: Well, it seems clear now that the film was designed to provoke a strong reaction among Muslims.

For the people who were cast in the film, many of them responded to ads on places like Craigslist and casting Web sites for a movie called “Desert Warrior,” which was supposed to be some sort of adventure film.

They say that their dialogue was dubbed, they didn’t deliver many of the movie’s most inflammatory lines.

The ones who I have spoken to said they were paid in cash, about $75 a day, and they thought this was your average low-budget, low-quality production.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was originally posted to YouTube back in June, I think, got very little attention, and then reposted a couple of days ago and translated into Arabic.

Do we know any more about who reposted it or who translated it or how that happened?

REBECCA KEEGAN: I don’t know who translated it. We do know that it was after it was put on Facebook by an Egyptian Coptic Christian that it began to find an audience.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the person you’re talking about who seems to be identified as making it, Nakula Basili Nakule?

There’s also…

REBECCA KEEGAN: That’s one of…

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, go ahead.

REBECCA KEEGAN: I’m sorry.

No, that’s one of many names. If we had a flowchart, I could give you about 40 different names that he goes by, but, yes, that’s one of them.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s another person who’s been involved in the story, a Steve Klein, who I gather that groups have watched for some time because of various ties to extremist groups in Southern California.

REBECCA KEEGAN: That’s right.

Steve Klein identified himself as a consultant on the film. It seems like he may have come in contact with the filmmakers because he was demonstrating outside of mosques, and they found a sort of affiliation in their anti-Islam beliefs.

Steve Klein also has a TV show on a network that is owned by a charity that we are finding linked to the film.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s still a little confusion, I think, at least for me. There’s a 13- or 14-minute video clip which people can see and clearly people are seeing. Is there an actual, was there an actual film ever made that appeared?

REBECCA KEEGAN: We have heard that an actual film, a feature-length film, screened at a theater in Hollywood earlier this summer.

The two people I have spoken to who worked on the film say they never saw a feature-length film. They have only seen what we have seen, which is this nearly 14-minute clip.

But, apparently, about only 10 people showed up to a screening at a place called The Vine Theatre in Hollywood for a full-length feature film.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, briefly, do you know what law enforcement is looking at, at this point in Southern California or who they’re talking to, what they’re looking for?

REBECCA KEEGAN: I think they’re looking for this person who has gone by the name Bacile and goes by many other names. I think they’re pursuing also the charity groups that are involved with the making of the film.

JEFFREY BROWN: Rebecca Keegan of The Los Angeles Times, thanks so much.

REBECCA KEEGAN: Thank you.