DAMASCUS - Syrian protesters who burned and looted the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus were encouraged to organise by the Syrian authorities, and received text messages from Islamic study centres urging them to gather, according to participants in the riot.
"The sheikhs told us to send five text messages to every true Muslim we knew urging them to participate," said a student from the Abu Nour Islamic Institute in Damascus.
"The authorities gave a green light for us to organise the gathering in public and to participate in it."
The publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad was the spark that lit the fuse to a tinderbox in the Middle East. But the fury displayed by crowds in Syria, and Lebanon may also have been exploited by some Muslim countries to settle scores with the West.
Syria and Iran face growing pressure from the US and Europe on the issues of Iraq and on Tehran's nuclear programme. And Egypt, one of the first to publicly criticise the cartoons, has been critical of the Danish Government for funding human rights groups.
"This is an organised attempt to take advantage of Muslim anger for purposes that do not serve the interests of Muslims and Lebanon, but those of others beyond the border," Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad, a Christian, said after riots in Beirut.
The White House said the Syrian demonstrations could not have happened "without Government knowledge or support".
Wael Bawabigy, a Damascus trader, said security forces armed with tear gas and rubber bullets were taken by surprise.