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Libya attack graphically marks rise of fundamentalist Muslims

The new wild card in Arab and Muslim politics may be the hardline Salafi Muslim groups that have emerged from the Arab Spring.

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"I would argue that a great deal of planning went into the [Libya] attack, they fired multiple missiles into the consulate, they are well known for their anti-American views," says Mr. Gerges of the Salafist militant group that carried out the attack.

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Anger could spread

Anger over the film expressed in Benghazi and Cairo could also spread to Afghanistan. The Taliban – removed from the Arab uprisings, but fighting US-led NATO forces, and sharing the theological roots of the most conservative Salafis – called on Afghans to fight such insults.

"Since America declared its open war on Islam 11 years ago, it has repeatedly ... insulted the inviolable sanctums of Islam," the Taliban said in a statement.

It called on Afghan mujahideen to avenge the film by "dealing a heavy blow" to US forces, and called on religious scholars to "fully inform the masses about such barbaric acts of America ... and to prepare them for a lengthy struggle."

They may have received an unexpected boost from President Hamid Karzai, who also issued a statement condemning the film as an "insult to the greatest Prophet of Islam."

While noting that the film's producer and Florida pastor Terry Jones "represent a small radical minority," Mr. Karzai stopped short of telling Afghans not to protest or commit acts of violence.

In April last year, violent protests erupted in Afghanistan in response to Mr. Jones burning a Quran in Florida. The event passed largely unnoticed for almost two weeks, until Karzai made a statement to condemn it. An angry mob then overran a UN compound in northern Afghanistan; at least 22 died in nationwide protests.

A dilemma for the US

The violence in Libya and burst of anti-US sentiment deepens the Arab Spring dilemma for President Obama.

"I think that American foreign policy is going to become much more reluctant to provide the support that it is in Libya, and in Syria in particular," says Gerges, referring to the US support for Free Syrian Army rebels at the helm of a 19-month rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Libya attacks will "contribute to a general sense of Arab Spring fatigue that we've seen in the US," says Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, contacted in Qatar.

"The Obama administration hasn't really laid out the rationale for why the US needs to play a major role in supporting the Arab Spring, but perhaps the events of yesterday will push Obama to further clarify policy," says Mr. Hamid. "I think Americans need to hear more of that because they are disillusioned, they want to disengage right now."


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