U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the killing of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in an attack on his country's consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
The U.S. leader paid tribute to Ambassador Chris Stevens and his slain colleagues, who died when a mob of Libyan protesters angered by reports of a film deemed insulting to Islam, stormed the U.S. compound.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
Obama said he has ordered “all necessary resources to support the security” to be provided to our personnel in Libya.
“On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi,” the president added.
NATO's secretary general also condemned Tuesday's attack.
"I strongly condemn the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi," Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement on Wednesday. "Such violence can never be justified.
"I welcome the Libyan president's comdemnation and condolences and his pledge of his government's full cooperation."
A Libyan official told Reuters news agency that Stevens had been on his way to a safer venue after protesters attacked the consulate and opened fire in protest at a U.S. film that they deemed blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammed.
The attack in Libya happened hours after angry Islamists stormed Washington’s embassy in Cairo.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement late on Tuesday, confirmed the death of the U.S. diplomat, who was not yet identified, and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate, after a day of mayhem in two countries that raised fresh questions about Washington’s relations with the Arab world.
The violent protest was strongly condemned by Libya’s General National Congress, which in a statement expressed “outrage at the unfortunate attack against the American consulate in Benghazi,” according to AFP.
Earlier Tuesday, Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned a symbolic “trial” of the Prophet organized by a U.S. group including Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who triggered riots in Afghanistan in 2010 by threatening to burn the Quran.
But it was not immediately clear whether it was the event sponsored by Jones, or another, possibly related, anti-Islam production, that prompted the melee at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and possibly the violence in Libya.
Whatever the cause, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties with Arab dictators who could be counted on to muzzle dissent.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in recent weeks had appeared to overcome some of its initial caution following the election of an Islamist Egyptian President, Mohammed Mursi, offering his government desperately needed debt relief and backing for international loans.
Abdul Muniem al-Hurr, spokesman for Libya’s Supreme Security Committee, said: “There is a connection between this attack and the protests that have been happening in Cairo.”
But a U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to believe the two incidents were linked, according to Reuters.
U.S. media, including The Wall Street Journal, reported that the film at issue, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” was produced by an Israeli-American real estate developer, but had been promoted by Jones.
Once the U.S. flag was hauled down in Cairo, some protesters tore it up and displayed bits to television cameras. Others burned the remnants outside the fortress-like embassy building in central Cairo. But some protesters objected to the flag burning.
Arab League deputy secretary general, Ahmed Ben Helli, has condemned the film saying it “contained insults against the prophet Mohammed” and “was denounced by Christians and Muslims” across the Arab world.
Clinton declared: “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.”
Tuesday’s protests came on the eleventh anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when U.S. cities were targeted by hijacked planes.
Egyptian activist Wael Ghoneim wrote on his Facebook page that “attacking the U.S. embassy on Sept. 11 and raising flags linked to al-Qaeda will not be understood by the American public as a protest over the film about the prophet.
“Instead, it will be received as a celebration of the crime that took place on September 11,” he said.
Washington has a large mission in Egypt, partly because of a huge aid program that followed Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The United States gives $1.3 billion to Egypt’s military each year and offers the nation other aid.
Following the protest, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it was committed to giving all embassies the protection they needed.
Romney slams Obama’s reaction
Mitt Romney on Wednesday hit out at the Obama administration's "disgraceful" response to violent protests in Egypt and Libya, accusing it of sympathizing with the Islamist demonstrators.
"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 Republican presidential candidate said in a statement.
"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."
The Obama campaign quickly fired back, with spokesman Ben LaBolt accusing Romney of launching a "political attack" on a day of tragedy.
"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," he said.