An anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube was the apparent trigger for violent protests Tuesday at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. By Wednesday morning news reports confirmed U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three U.S. staffers had been killed. A crush of initial reports and public comments confused the order and location of key events.
Here’s a timeline:July 2
- An anti-Muslim filmmaker using the name Sam Bacile posts a 14-minute English-language trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which depicts the prophet Muhammed in an insulting manner. A similar video appeared on YouTube on July 1, but received less attention.
- Per the New York Times, an anti-Muslim Egyptian American Coptic Christian draws attention to the trailer in an Arabic-language blog post and English-language e-mail newsletter, which also publicizes the latest stunt by Terry Jones — the Florida pastor who was chastised worldwide in 2011 for burning a Koran, inciting a deadly altercation at a United Nations compound in Afghanistan.
- Egyptian television airs an Arabic-language scene from the Bacile film.
- In anticipation of the ensuing uproar, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issues a statement at 6:17 a.m. ET, according to State Department officials, condemning all attempts to “abuse” free speech rights to offend people of any religion.
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. 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.
- Unarmed protestors gather outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo throughout the day. By nightfall in Cairo, which was around noon ET, some protestors scale the walls around the compound and destroy a flag inside. The incursion is contained and protests continue outside the compound into the night.
- Via Twitter, around 4:30 p.m. ET, the U.S. embassy in Cairo condemns the breach, but stands by its initial condemnation of religiously inflammatory speech, which, it noted, was “issued before the attacks.”
- 5:37 p.m. ET: Terry Jones issues a press release: “Tonight after International Judge Mohammad Day we will be showing the Mohammad Movie Trailer, a video promoting the movie, Innocence of Muslims. It is an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam. The movie further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad.”
- 5:41 p.m. ET: Reporters in Libya hear shooting and see smoke rising near the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
- 7:35 p.m. ET: Reuters confirms that an American consulate staffer has been killed in Benghazi. This staffer is later identified as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith.
- 10:09 p.m. ET: The Romney campaign issue a statement from Mitt Romney himself condemning the Obama administration for the Cairo embassy’s repudiation of religiously insensitive speech. It falsely suggests that the Cairo embassy’s condemnation came in response to the attacks in both Egypt and Lybia.
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. 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 statement is embargoed — meaning the press cannot report on it — until midnight, Sept. 12 — the moment the Obama and Romney campaigns’ Sept. 11 truce is scheduled to end.
- 10:10 p.m. ET: An Obama administration source disavows the U.S. embassy in Cairo’s statement of condemnation to Politico.
- 10:25 p.m. ET: Without explanation, the Romney campaign lifts its embargo on Romney’s statement and it becomes public.
- 10:44 p.m. ET: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the attack in Benghazi.
I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.
This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf 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. 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.
In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.
- Just before midnight ET, the U.S. embassy in Cairo removes some its tweets, from both before and during the protests, condemning religiously offensive speech. It does not remove one posted at 4:29 p.m. ET: “3) Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry.”
- 12:01 a.m. ET: Just as the campaigns’ Sept. 11 detente ends, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweets, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Unlike Romney’s statement, Priebus’ tweet is silent on Libya.
- 12:09 a.m. ET: The Obama campaign fires back. “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,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said, in an emailed statement.
- 5:41 a.m. ET: Reuters reports that U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other embassy staffers were killed in a rocket attack.
- 7:21 a.m. ET: The White House issues an official statement from President Obama condemning the attack in Benghazi.
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.
I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
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. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.
The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.
- 10:27 a.m. ET: After canceling a campaign event in Florida, Romney holds a press availability to discuss the events in Libya and Egypt. In his opening remarks he reiterates his attack on the Obama administration and later directs criticism at the embassy in Cairo — not for its initial statement but for standing by that statement after its walls had been breached. He also defends his decision to issue his original statement before he knew the severity of the events in Libya.
- 10:42 a.m. ET In live remarks at the White House Rose Garden, President Obama, joined by Secretary Clinton, condemns the attacks and mourns the loss of embassy officials, including Stevens.