By Julian Pecquet (The Hill)
Violence in the post-Arab Spring Middle East threatened to upset the presidential race Wednesday after the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other staffers were killed in an attack by an angry mob on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, two security officials and another consulate worker reportedly died of suffocation as they tried to evacuate the burning consulate building set aflame by protestors angered by a U.S.-financed film they saw as attacking Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
President Obama condemned the “outrageous attack” and said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.
The attack in Libya came as Egyptian protesters, in a separate incident, scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and tore and burned an American flag that was flying at half-mast for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The violence swirled into the presidential race after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney strongly criticized the Obama administration’s initial response.
Before either attack, U.S. embassy officials in Cairo sought to calm tensions with a statement which criticized the online film “Innocence of Muslims” that had been promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who provoked riots in Muslim countries by burning Korans.
The U.S. statement criticized the makers of the film for abusing “the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
Romney’s statement, issued before the full extent of the tragedy was known, said the Obama administration was wrong to initially sympathize with those who waged the attacks.