The United States is positioning military forces so that it can respond to unrest in as many as 17 or 18 places in the Islamic world, defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced late on Friday (local time).

“We have to be prepared in the event that these demonstrations get out of control,” Panetta told¬†Foreign Policy¬†magazine.

He did not offer any specifics. But the magazine said that the Pentagon was discussing, but had not yet decided, whether to send a third platoon of 50 specially trained Marines to protect the US Embassy in Sudan that found itself on Friday under assault.

If approved, this deployment will follow the roughly 100 Marines that already have landed in Libya and Yemen.

The comments came after furious protesters targeted symbols of US influence in cities across the Muslim world, attacking embassies, schools and restaurants in retaliation for a film that mocks Islam.

At least six protesters died in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan on Friday as local police battled to defend American missions from mobs of stone-throwers, and Washington deployed US Marines to protect its embassies in Libya and Yemen.

The protests broke out when Muslims emerged from mosques following weekly prayers to voice their anger at a crude film made in the United States by a right-wing Christian group that ridicules the Prophet Mohammed.

US ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans died on Tuesday when a mob torched the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Panetta argued it was too early to say what exactly happened in Benghazi and who was to blame for the attacks.

“It’s something that’s under assessment and under investigation, to determine just exactly what happened here,” he said.

But the defence secretary cautioned that even though the United States had dealt the Al-Qaeda terror network a heavy blow in recent years, there were other extremists ready to pick up the torch.

“We always knew that we would have to continue to confront elements of extremism elsewhere as well,” he insisted.

“They’re going to resort to these kinds of tactics, because in many ways I think they have lost their voice in the Middle East,” Panetta added.