MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Security was increased at American embassies and consulates around the world Thursday following an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador in Libya, while the U.S. urged its citizens abroad to be vigilant.
Police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, stopped a march by people who chanted slogans and burned a U.S. flag in protest of a provocative American film that depicts the Islamic prophet Muhammad in disrespectful ways. Guards and police special forces were seen carrying assault rifles outside the U.S. Embassy in the Philippine capital, while embassy guards gestured to a photographer to stop taking pictures.
President Barack Obama ordered increased security at American missions after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed Tuesday in Benghazi, Libya. The attack on the consulate there was presumed to have been triggered by outrage over the film, but U.S. officials are investigating whether it was a terrorist strike on the 11th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Indonesia's government has condemned the anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims," but there has been no public reaction so far in the world's most populous Muslim nation, even though it is prone to large protests. Officials called on Indonesians to stay calm ahead of Friday prayers, when demonstrations often take place.
The U.S. Embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, issued a security message to American citizens advising them to pay close attention to their surroundings and to avoid large crowds that might turn violent.
"These events are a reminder to all of us that the security situation in any location can change rapidly and in unexpected ways," it said.
Indonesia's government has asked Google, which owns YouTube, to help block online access to "Innocence of Muslims," said Gatot Dewabroto, a Communication Ministry spokesman. It was available Thursday morning, but could not be viewed by afternoon.
"The movie has hurt Muslims all over the world deeply. They deliberately wanted to make Muslims angry," said Amidan Shaberah, a prominent cleric at the influential Indonesian Ulema Council. "We urge Indonesian Muslims to calm down because the majesty and greatness of God and the Prophet Muhammad will not be diminished by these insults."
In the Philippines, diplomats had asked for additional police personnel and patrols for the seaside compound that houses the U.S. Embassy, as well as a nearby residential complex and the consulate in the central city of Cebu, ahead of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. Officials said the heightened security would be maintained indefinitely.
Traffic was busy as usual Thursday on a Manila boulevard in front of the embassy's main entrance. A police pickup truck with a machine gun mounted on the back was parked under a tree, and Philippine coast guard vessels patrolled Manila Bay around the embassy. Police patrols were also intensified in other U.S. facilities, including the American cemetery in the Philippine capital.
"President Obama yesterday directed an increase in security at diplomatic posts around the world, and this includes our embassy here in Manila," said embassy spokeswoman Tina Malone.
Americans flags were lowered at half-staff as U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. mourned the loss of the American diplomats in Libya.
"We will do our best to honor and carry forward their memory and their service," he said in a statement.
In Nigeria, which is largely split between a Muslim north and a Christian south, the U.S. Embassy warned that "extremists may attempt to target U.S citizens and other Westerners." Previous violence by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram saw the embassy ban its staff from traveling to the north for much of this year. The sect is blamed for killing more than 670 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
Nigeria's federal police force was ordered to provide additional security to foreign embassies, but the country was largely quiet, with local media reporting only one small protest over the film happening in the central city of Jos.
The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia advised on its website that demonstrations were possible there and that American should use caution. An embassy official there said it was policy not to discuss security measures.
Higher security was evident around the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, including searches of vehicles nearby. Police blocked about 400 marchers belonging to two Islamic groups who were proceeding through streets near the Baitul Mokarram mosque, several kilometers from the U.S. Embassy in the capital.
Associated Press writers Julhas Alam and Al-Emrun Garjon in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; and Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria; contributed to this report.