Protesters have set fire to an American school in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, Reuters reported Sept. 14. The school was closed because it is Friday, the Muslim Sabbath. This is an unfolding situation and thus details are few and unreliable. Previously, several dozen protesters appear to have been able to get over the perimeter wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and set fires within the embassy grounds. Video of the embassy shows a thick cloud of black smoke rising above the area, but reports indicate that protesters set several vehicles on fire within the compound. Burning tires, gasoline and oil would most likely cause the black smoke.
Unlike the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the embassy in Tunis is a fully fortified Inman building that has the security features in place to prevent protesters from entering. This makes it unlikely then that the actual embassy building is on fire. Securing the outer perimeter of the embassy grounds is the responsibility of the local security forces, so this appears to be a failure on their part. U.S. security forces stationed at the embassy will use deadly force to prevent protesters from accessing the building.
It is not clear whether the group that is attacking the U.S. Embassy in Tunis has now turned to striking another American facility, the school, or if we are looking at more than one group going after different U.S. assets.
The attack on different types of American facilities is to be expected given the volatile climate in the region following the release of a video produced in the United States that was offensive to Muslims. In Tunisia, the situation is all the more grave because protests and vigilantism by Salafist entities were already occurring well before the film crisis broke out. Salafists in the country have been trying to take advantage of the nascent democratic environment in the country, in which there is an interim government led by the country's mainstream Islamist movement, Ennahda. Thus far, they have targeted art galleries, bars and police stations. They can now be expected to add American schools, fast food chains and even U.S. citizens to their target set.
The outrage over the film provides these Salafist actors with more room to advance themselves as an alternative to the more liberal Islamist Ennahda, which they accuse of compromising on core religious principles. This puts Ennahda and its secular allies in a difficult position where they will have to escalate the ongoing crackdown, which could complicate the situation. Thus, we are likely to see further attacks against American and Western facilities in the country and around the region by ultraconservative religious forces.