U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats were killed Tuesday in an assault on the American consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, the White House said Wednesday.
Wire services and reporters on the ground said that Stevens and the others were fleeing the consulate when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their vehicle. Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Benghazi said the bodies of the dead had been taken to the Benghazi airport.
The attacks — apparently prompted by outrage over an amateur, anti-Muslim film made in the United States — are likely to prompt a deep rethinking of U.S. policy toward both Libya and Egypt, where the United States supported Arab Spring revolutions and has been instrumental in providing financial and diplomatic support for their newly-democratic governments. Local security officials in both countries appeared slow to provide protection for the American diplomatic installations, and have issued no firm statements explaining the violence or expressing strong concern.
The film, produced in the United States and posted online, denigrated the Islamic prophet Mohammed. In her statement, Clinton said that while she “deplores” any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
The crisis quickly spilled over into the U.S. presidential campaign, as Mitt Romney issued a brief statement saying he was “outraged” by the assaults. Romney then said “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”