Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders criticized the Obama administration's initial reaction to reports of protests at U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya, claiming the president sympathized with the attackers.
On Wednesday morning, President Obama confirmed the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans. They were killed Tuesday night in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi by armed Islamist militiamen enraged over an American film deemed insulting to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
News reports said the militiamen were armed with rockets and grenades. Video footage and photographs of the U.S. consulate show the building was badly damaged by fire and artillery fire.
Earlier protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo showed other armed men tearing down the American flag and replacing it with an Islamic banner. No casualties were reported in Cairo.
After the White House confirmation Wednesday, Romney doubled down on earlier criticisms of the administration's handling of the last 24 hour's events, saying initial condemnations of "religious incitement" in Egypt by embassy staff were "disgraceful" and "akin to an apology."
After the Cairo protests, but before the reports of the attacks in Libya, the U.S. embassy in Egypt released a statement condemning the offensive movie, which was produced Sam Bacile, a 52-year-old Israeli-American from California.
"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions," the statement read.
"Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy," it added.
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus reacted to the Cairo statement early on Tuesday night, accusing the president of identifying with the Cairo attackers by tweeting, "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."
Soon after, the State Department confirmed one casualty in the separate attacks on the Benghazi compound. After the confirmation, Mitt Romney released his first statement.
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," the Romney statement read.
He added, "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Not long after Romney's statement, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a response, accusing the Republican presidential nominee of trying to score political points off the attack.
"We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack," LaBolt wrote.
This morning, after the confirmation of Stevens' death, Romney reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration.
"The Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions," the Romney statement read.
It added, "It's never too early for the United States Government to condemn attacks on Americans...The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn't 'cleared by Washington.' That reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world."
The embassy in Cairo has since deleted the initial tweets it sent condemning religious incitement. But late Tuesday night it issued a succession of three tweets defending its position and tacitly criticizing political statements on the attacks.
"1) Thank you for your thoughts and prayers," the tweets began. "2) Of course we condemn breaches of our compound, we're the ones actually living through this."
The third tweet read, "3) Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry."
The subsequent - and final - tweets sent from the account announced the closure of the embassy for the day and the number for emergency services.
by RTT Staff Writer
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