USA Today reports that the riot at the U.S. embassy in Cairo appears to have been planned well before the Egyptian media reported on the anti-Islam YouTube film that was blamed for sparking the protest. The protest was reportedly announced on August 30 by Gamaa Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist group, to call for the release of its leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman — aka the blind sheik, who is serving a life sentence for the first World Trade Center bombing:
Days of planning and online promotion by hard-line Islamist leaders helped whip up the mobs that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that killed an ambassador and three others. …
The protest was planned by Salafists well before news circulated of an objectionable video ridiculing Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, said Eric Trager, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by [Gamaa Islamiyya], a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Based on the report, it sounds like the anti-Islam YouTube video was a secondary issue — a way for Islamist leaders to stoke anger and draw more bodies out to the embassy protest. If the storming of the embassy was organized by Gamaa Islamiyya — as opposed to a spontaneous uprising — why hasn’t the State Department’s response reflected that? It’s hard to imagine they’re not aware of the group’s activities. In June, the State Department actually issued a visa to a member of Gamaa Islamiyya — again, this is a designated terrorist organization — and met with him in Washington, as part of a delegation of Egyptian leaders. During the meeting, he reportedly asked White House officials to release the blind sheik. Here was the State Department’s defense at the time, which is even more astonishing in light of the latest news:
“We neither had then, nor do we have now, any reason to believe that this particular individual — who at the time of his application was a member of parliament — would pose a threat to the United States,” [State Department spokesperson Victoria] Nuland told reporters.
Nuland pointed to rapid changes in the Middle East, where an Islamist was declared the winner Sunday of Egypt’s first democratic presidential elections a year and a half after street protests toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“It’s a new day in Egypt; it’s a new day in a lot of countries across the Middle East and North Africa. So new political personalities are coming to light,” Nuland said.
“We have more folks who want to come here, want to know us, want to learn about the US, want to develop relationships with us. We have the same interest with regard to them,” she said.
Apparently State miscalculated on that “develop relationships” part.