This post has been updated.
Protestors attacked United States diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya on Tuesday, killing one State Department officer, the State Department confirmed late Tuesday night.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the death at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, according to the Associated Press. Angry mobs descended on the consulate in Libya and the embassy in Egypt to protest an online film promoted by American pastor Terry Jones that denounces Islam.
In a previous incident tied to Jones, a riot at a U.N. mission in Afghanistan killed 12 people in 2011, including three United Nations workers and four security guards, after mullahs urged followers to protest the Florida pastor’s burning of a Koran. More were killed in additional protests elsewhere in the country.
The timeline of events, as it appears to have developed:
Earlier today, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt issued a statement that “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 embassy said the statement was drafted and released before the protests. But the succession of events drew widespread criticism in the United States after violence broke out for appearing weak in the face of threats.
The embassy later said on its Twitter account that it “still stands” by its condemnation but decried the breach of its compound. But a senior White House official insisted to Politico that the initial statement was never cleared by Washington and disavowed its content. The embassy’s account deleted its post-attack tweet standing by its words late Tuesday night as well as earlier tweets quoting the original statement. TPM caught a screengrab. Others are here.
In a separate statement Tuesday night, Clinton issued a condemnation of the attacks in Libya that explicitly decried their purported justification.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” the statement read. “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.”
Mitt Romney seized on the embassy attacks as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the situation in a statement late Tuesday. Despite the embassy’s assertion that its statement was drafted before protests began, Romney slammed the White House for turning to apologies as the “first response” to violence.
“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,” 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.”
That didn’t sit well with the Obama campaign, who accused Romney of exploiting the crisis for electoral gain.
“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,” Obama’s campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
Update: Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus accused the president of siding with the rioters:
Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt.Sad and pathetic.— Reince Priebus (@Reince) September 12, 2012
Update II: The American embassy in Egypt has removed its initial statement from before the attacks from its homepage, though the URL appears to work for now.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.