Australian Police Continue to Hunt 'Innocence of Muslims' Protest Leaders
SYDNEY - Australian police have charged six men over a protest against the film, Innocence of Muslims, that turned violent in Sydney on Saturday.
Two police and 17 others were injured in the ad hoc protest which grew to between 300 and 400 people, and started at Sydney Town Hall then marched on the U.S. consulate, about a kilometre away before clashes with 200 police spread throughout the city’s central business district and Hyde Park. CCTV footage is being viewed to find other ringleaders.
Women, children and families were part of the protest, which was organized via text message and social media, with one young boy among a number of protestors photographed holding banners which read “Behead those who insult Islam.”
Questioned about those signs one unnamed protestor told ABC Television “ It wasn’t for the police commissioner, it was for the individual who made the movie.”
The text messages which reportedly called people to rally against the film, which has fuelled violence throughout Muslim communities in the Middle East and Africa, read "we must act now" to "defend the Prophet's honour."
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday that angry Muslim community members had tipped off the police to the rally.
NSW Police commissioner Andrew Scipione said: "Many of them were sent to us by people within the community who were outraged by what they were receiving on their SMS system or on their Facebook page and so they brought them to our attention.”
Muslim community leaders denounced the protest on Sunday.
Samir Dandan of the Lebanese Muslim Association said the violent scenes were “outside the normal behaviour of any Muslim.”
Youth leader Kurnada Sevit of the Forum on Australian Islamic Relations said the rally was “disorganized, uncontrolled and a free for all,” which was why he decided not to attend.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Monday the violence in the protest was the work of a “lunatic fringe.”
"It's a more nuanced story and we've got to think about the hurt and the pain of Australian Muslims, loyal Australians, when they saw that stupid and dangerous and repugnant lunatic fringe - 100 of them, a mere 100 of them - on Saturday night's TV," Senator Carr told ABC radio.
United States Ambassador in Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, thanked police for protecting the embassy on Saturday and said it was "business as usual" today.
He would not say if security had been beefed up for him or his staff in the wake of the international violence, sparked by the online video.
"I was particularly heartened by the overwhelming outpouring of support that came for America in the aftermath," he told reporters here.