US President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Joint
Base Andrews as he departs Washington. REUTERS/Kevin
President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice the
killers of the US ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya
as he sought to avoid election-year fallout from an attack that
cast a spotlight on his administration's handling of "Arab
Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama condemned the
attack in Benghazi as "outrageous and shocking" but insisted
it would not harm relations with Libya's new elected
government, which took power in July after rebel forces
backed by NATO air power overthrew Muammar Gaddafi Last year.
The targeting of American diplomats - in militant violence
sparked by a US-made anti-Islamic film - quickly reverberated
in the US presidential campaign and could have implications
for public attitudes toward revolutions across the Arab
Obama, apparently seeking to seize the initiative in the
midst of a close-fought race for re-election in November,
pledged to work with the Libyan government to "see that
justice is done for this terrible act."
"And make no mistake: justice will be done," Obama said, with
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side.
He ordered increased security at US embassies around the
world, and a Marine anti-terrorist team was dispatched to
boost security for US personnel in Libya.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy staff were killed
late on Tuesday in an attack on the US consulate and a safe
house refuge in the eastern city of Benghazi, stormed by
gunmen blaming America for a film they said insulted the
Another assault was mounted on the US embassy in Cairo.
Stevens, 52, was one of the first American officials on the
ground in Benghazi after the city became the cradle of the
revolt last year against Gaddafi's more than four-decade
rule. The 21-year veteran of the foreign service was named
ambassador in May.
Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer,
was identified as one of the diplomats killed. The names of
the two others were withheld while the government notified
LIBYA POLICY, CAMPAIGN IMPACT
Obama had hailed Libya's election in July as a milestone in
its post-Gaddafi democratic transition and pledged that the
United States would act as a partner even as he cautioned
that there would still be difficult challenges ahead.
In the series of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the Middle
East last year, Obama opted for a cautious strategy that
steered clear of a dominant role for the US military and drew
criticism from Republican opponents at home for what was
described as "leading from behind."
Before the full death toll and details of the Libya attack
were known, Obama's Republican presidential challenger, Mitt
Romney, criticized the Obama administration's initial
response and he stood by his position on Wednesday.
"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," Romney told reporters in Florida. He has accused
Obama of a failure of world leadership and of not upholding
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt criticized Romney for
making a "political attack" at a time of national tragedy,
and the president then reiterated condemnation of insults to
the beliefs of others.
"We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of
others," Obama said. "But there is absolutely no
justification to this type of senseless violence."
Immediately after his speech, Obama, who was due to leave
later in the day on a campaign trip to Nevada, took the
unusual step of visiting the State Department to express
solidarity with the US diplomatic corps.
He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at US
installations worldwide in honor of those killed in Libya.
The giant flag flying over the White House was lowered on
The Libya crisis has come at a time when the spotlight was
already on the Middle East amid escalating tensions between
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how
to deal with Iran's nuclear program.
Clinton said the Benghazi attack was the work of a "small and
savage group" and that US-Libyan ties would not suffer.
But she seemed to take note that Americans might resent such
an attack on US personnel in a North African country they
helped to bring out from under long authoritarian rule.
"I ask myself, how could this happen? How could this happen
in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save
from destruction?" Clinton said. "This question reflects just
how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can