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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.


Libyans walk on the grounds of the gutted US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, on Sept. 12, 2012.

Ibrahim Alaguri/AP

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The deadly anti-US attack in Libya graphically marks the rise of fundamentalist Salafi Muslims in the aftermath of the Arab Spring – and the challenge it poses to US policy in the region.

But the violence that tore through the US consulate in Benghazi, killing four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, has also served to show the limited appeal of those tactics by prompting widespread condemnation, analysts say. Protesters also breached the US embassy walls in Cairo, angered by a deliberately provocative, anti-Islam film that appears to have been made by a Steve Klein, an anti-Islam activist who lives in California. Smaller protests also broke out in Tunisia today.

"One of the major features of the Arab uprisings is the emergence of ultraconservative Salafi groups," says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East specialist at the London School of Economics, contacted in Paris. "They are extremely hyper, extremely anti-American, extremely blinded by the sunshine of the open political atmosphere. The Salafis now are the wild card in Arab and Muslim politics, in Libya, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia. In Syria, they are ... becoming a major factor in the [antiregime] equation."


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