The United States on Sunday condemned a Pakistani government minister’s offer of a bounty to kill the maker of an anti-Islam film that has triggered violent protests around the Muslim world.
As demonstrators held more rallies against the film — this time in Hong Kong, Turkey, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Bangladesh — even Pakistan’s government distanced itself from the comments by its Railways Minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
On Saturday, Bilour offered a $100,000 “prize” for killing the filmmaker of “Innocence of Muslims” — an amateurish film made in the United States — and invited the Taliban and al Qaeda to take part in the “noble deed.”
The State Department weighed in Sunday, with an official recalling that US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “have both said the video at the core of this is offensive, disgusting, and reprehensible.
The official added: “But that is no justification for violence and it is important for responsible leaders to stand up and speak out against violence.” Therefore we find Mr. Bilour’s announcement is inflammatory and inappropriate,” the official said in a statement.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf rejected the bounty offer. “This is not government policy. We completely dissociate (ourselves) from this,” a spokesman for the prime minister’s office told AFP.
Fresh rallies were held across Pakistan Sunday to condemn the film after violent nationwide protests Friday left 21 people dead when police used tear gas and live rounds to fight back protesters.
More than 50 people have died in protests and attacks around the world linked to the low-budget film, which mocks Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, since the first demonstrations on September 11.
Four US officials, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
The publication on Wednesday of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has further stoked anger.
In France, an 18-year-old man who used Facebook to threaten the magazine’s editors was charged Sunday with terrorism-related activity, a judicial source said.
Police arrested the teenager in the southern city of Toulon on Wednesday after he was reported by a person close to him who was concerned over his radicalism.
Police found several knives at his residence and said the man had threatened to go after those in charge of the weekly.
Meanwhile, an influential US lawmaker cast doubt over whether there was even an anti-American protest going on when the American ambassador to Libya was killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
The Obama administration initially said it believed extremists had not really planned the attack in Libya but rather had simply used a spontaneous protest over the anti-Islamic trailer as cover to mix in with the crowd and attack with weapons that included rocket-propelled grenades.
The White House for the first time on Thursday described the assault as a “terrorist attack” and said it could have links to al Qaeda. But a Republican lawmaker cast doubt Sunday over whether the protests even happened.
“I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time,” Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“The notion about the film… I think the administration was ill-advised to push down that road,” he added.
Rogers said he believed it was a revenge attack timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11 but that it wasn’t clear if the militants had known Stevens was there or just got lucky.
“This had to be a pre-planned event. We know it was an act of terrorism. I think the administration has come to the conclusion it’s an act of terrorism now,” he said.
The State Department is under rising scrutiny about what appears to be inadequate security for Stevens and the consulate in Benghazi before the attack.