Amid spreading protests, U.S. diplomats in Beirut burn classified documents
U.S. State Department confirms decision to destroy classified materials, despite no imminent threat to embassy; Libya sacks Benghazi security chiefs in wake of attack on U.S. consulate that killed 4 Americans last week.
Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut have begun destroying classified material as a security precaution, amid anti-American protests in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
A State Department status report obtained Monday by The Associated Press said the Beirut embassy had "reviewed its emergency procedures and is beginning to destroy classified holdings."
It also said that local Lebanese employees were sent home early due to protests by the militant Shiite group Hezbollah over an anti-Muslim film produced in the U.S.
In Washington, a State Department official said there was no imminent threat to the heavily fortified Beirut embassy, which is about an hour away from where the nearest demonstration is planned.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss security procedures, said the decision was routine and made by embassy staff.
Protesters have breached the walls or compounds of several U.S. diplomatic missions, including the consulate in Benghazi, Libya where the ambassador and three other Americans were killed, Cairo and Tunis since last Tuesday.
After Tuesday's incidents, the State Department ordered all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to review their security postures. As a result, a number of missions decided to destroy classified material, the official said.
It was not immediately clear which other missions besides the one in Beirut had taken that step.
Earlier Monday, the State Department renewed its warning to U.S. citizens to "avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns." It said U.S. citizens "living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks."
In Beirut on Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance, which he used to warn the United States that it faced further anger and repercussions across the Muslim world unless it suppressed a video that mocks the Prophet Mohammad.
"The world should know our anger will not be a passing outburst but the start of a serious movement that will continue on the level of the Muslim nation to defend the Prophet of God," Nasrallah told tens of thousands of marchers in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Nasrallah has lived in hiding to avoid assassination since Hezbollah fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006.
In Libya, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al said on Monday that the government of that country had decided to sack its security chiefs for Benghazi following the deadly attacks on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city last week.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans died when gunmen attacked the consulate and a "safe house" in the eastern city last Tuesday night. The attackers were part of a crowd that blamed the United States for a video posted online that mocks the Prophet Mohammad.
Meanwhile, a Tunisian Salafist leader on Monday escaped from a mosque that had been surrounded by security forces seeking to arrest him over clashes at the U.S. embassy in Tunis last week, a Reuters witness said.
Saif-Allah Benahssine, leader of the Tunisian branch of the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Sharia, slipped away after hundreds of his followers stormed out of al-Fatah mosque in Tunis, some of them wielding sticks and creating panic among pedestrians.
A few minutes earlier, around 1,000 riot and anti-terror police forces had retreated by some 200 meters (660 feet) from the mosque for unexplained reasons, witnesses said.
Interior Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.