The White House confirmed this morning that four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, one of the country‚??s largest cities.
The attacks were apparently the work of radicals outraged at the irreverent portrayal of the Muslim prophet Muhammad in an American-made satirical video. According to reports, Stevens and three staff were killed when protesters attacked the consulate building with rockets and set it on fire. According to Al Jazeera, Stevens died of smoke inhalation during the attacks.
Wednesday morning, both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released statements expressing their condolences to the victims and condemnation of the attacks.
Clinton seemed to walk a fine line of sensitivity in characterizing the violence:
‚??Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,‚?Ě she said. ‚??The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. ¬†Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. ¬†But let me be clear: ¬†There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.‚?Ě
Obama, confirming the men‚??s deaths in a statement, said he planned to increase security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world and called Stevens a ‚??courageous and exemplary representative of the United States.‚?Ě
But he, too, took care to couch a condemnation of the video in his statement.
‚??While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,‚?Ě he said.
This political dance began yesterday when protests by Egyptian demonstrators in Cairo prompted the U.S. Embassy to put out a statement–later retracted–condemning the American filmmakers for exercising free speech and validating the violent actions of protesters.
‚??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. 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. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,‚?Ě embassy officials said in the statement.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded with a statement Tuesday night condemning the administration for its conciliatory approach to violent extremism.
‚??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,‚?Ě he said. ‚??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.‚?Ě