Pakistan called in the Army on Thursday evening to control a rampaging mob that besieged the Diplomatic Enclave here as part of their effort to burn down the U.S. Embassy to protest the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims.
Several people, including policemen, were injured in the pitched battle that lasted nearly four hours near the perennially fortified Diplomatic Enclave. The mob — many of whom were carrying banners of different banned jihadi outfits — dispersed with the nightfall and the arrival of men in battle fatigues. Earlier, efforts by the police to stop the protesters from advancing proved ineffective, despite the use of aerial firing, batons and teargas.
Through the four hours, all those working in the diplomatic missions — including the Indian High Commission — were instructed not to leave their compounds. Similarly, all those in other buildings in the vicinity, including the high-end Serena Hotel, were stranded inside as the mob swelled with the arrival of vehicle loads of people from neighbouring areas, including Rawalpindi and Murree.
Trouble began around 2.30 p.m. after a group of students proceeded to the Diplomatic Enclave, shouting slogans against the U.S. As they were being tear-gassed by the police, more and more protesters began to gather around the area; some managed to break through the police cordon and get atop the huge shipping containers that had been placed around the enclave to barricade it.
At least four police pickets were set afire and vehicles torched. Cars parked in the Serena parking lot were also damaged in the stone-throwing. Rumours thickened as they spread, with one claiming that the mob had asked Serena Hotel to hand over Americans inside. That this was just a rumour was established when the situation calmed down.
As the protests raged on, questions were asked how such large groups of protesters managed to enter Islamabad in vehicles, especially since security had been intensified owing to the call for protests on Friday.