Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Sept. 11, 2012.
CAIRO - Egyptian protesters, largely ultraconservative Islamists, climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, made their way into the courtyard and brought down the flag, replacing it with a black flag with an Islamic inscription to protest a film attacking Islam's prophet, Muhammad.
There's very little concrete information about the film, what it is, where it's been produced and why protesters have chosen the American Embassy to vent their anger upon, CBS News' Alex Ortiz reports from Cairo.
Hundreds of protesters marched to the embassy in downtown Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie, which was reportedly produced in the United States.
"Say it, don't fear: Their ambassador must leave," the crowd chanted.
A U.S. Embassy official disputed a report that embassy guards had fired their weapons at the protesters, Ortiz reports.
Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, took down the flag from a pole in the courtyard and brought it back to the crowd outside. The crowd tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart. The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith on it, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet." The flag, similar to the banner used by al Qaeda, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.
The streets around the U.S. and British Embassies had been closed to traffic for years, Ortiz reports. Only recently had the security barriers cutting off traffic been removed, and the army and police presence had been reduced, which assisted the demonstrators.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was working with Egyptian authorities to try to restore order.
The protest took place on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, but there was nothing to indicate the demonstration was tied to the anniversary.
The demonstration also happened the same day Mohammed Zawahiri, leader of the newly established Egyptian Salafist Jihadi Movement and brother of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, called on followers to protest the film outside the embassy Wednesday.
Almost all the staff had left before the embassy was breached, a U.S. official said. Only a few staff members were still inside, as embassy security had sent most staff home early after learning of the upcoming protest. The situation is still fluid, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
An official in the embassy in Cairo said the ambassador was out of town.
Egyptian media say the movie was recently produced in the United States by an anti-Muslim group. The film, clips of which are available on the social website YouTube, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, showing him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way.
The protests came after some Egyptian media have been reporting on the film for several days, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.