Burnt vehicle after attack at US Consulate that killed US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Benghazi, Libya. AP
By NBC News staff
Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration late Tuesday over the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, claiming its first response was "to sympathize" with the attackers.
An Obama campaign spokesman responded by saying they were "shocked" that Romney would "choose to launch a political attack" shortly after the death of a U.S. official. A State Department officer was killed in Benghazi, Libya, after armed protesters stormed the consulate.
As the controversy built on Tuesday over an amateur video allegedly produced in the U.S. - that shows the Prophet Muhammad having sex and calling for massacres - the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying it condemned "efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.
"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," it added.
However, the Obama administration official told Politico that the statement "was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government."
Romney said he was "outraged" by the attacks and the killing of the officer in Benghazi.
"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," he added.
The statement, however, was issued by the Cairo embassy, and it was released before the violence had occurred.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt criticized Romney for seeking to make the situation a campaign issue.
"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.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that she condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms."
"We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack," she said of the dead officer.
'Never any justification'
Clinton said Mohamed al-Magariaf, president of Libya's National Congress, had "expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government's full cooperation."
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," 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."
Sarah Palin also weighed in on her Facebook page, beginning her remarks by saying "apparently President Obama can't see Egypt and Libya from his house."
"On the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks ever perpetrated on America, our embassy in Cairo and our consulate in Benghazi were attacked by violent Islamic mobs," she said.
"The Islamic radicals claim that these attacks are in protest to some film criticizing Islam. In response to this, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement that was so outrageous many of us thought it must be a satire," she added. "The embassy actually apologized to the violent mob attacking us, and it even went so far as to chastise those who use free speech to 'hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'"
Addressing Obama, Palin asked "How's that Arab Spring working out for us now?"
"It's about time our president stood up for America and condemned these Islamic extremists," she said.
NBC News, AP