A timeline of key events in the Middle East and the U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday.
6:17 a.m. Eastern time. (12:17 p.m. in Cairo): The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issues a statement that obliquely referred to the controversy over an anti-Islam film supposedly made by a U.S.-based real estate developer. The statement said, in part, “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.”
Around the same time, pieces of that statement were sent out as tweets by the official embassy Twitter account.
That language echoed prior statements by U.S. embassies in 2010, when a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Koran, the holy book of Islam. “We are deeply concerned about all deliberate attempts to offend members of any religious or ethnic group,” an embassy official in Pakistan said then. Similar statements were made by embassies in other Muslim-majority countries.
10:15 a.m. Eastern time (4:15 p.m. in Cairo): A small crowd begins to gather outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Over the next three hours, the crowd grows larger and more aggressive. A group of protesters scales the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and enters its outer grounds. The group pulls down an American flag, then tries to burn it outside the embassy walls, according to witnesses.
4 p.m. Eastern time (10 p.m. in Benghazi): A group of unidentified gunmen assault the U.S. consulate compound in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, quickly overwhelming the U.S. and Libyan forces providing security. Senior U.S. officials provided an account of the attack Wednesay. Inside the compound, security forces are separated from U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens inside a burning building. U.S. personnel, without Stevens, retreat to an annex building. They are under seige there for two hours, before Libyan security forces can drive the attackers off. In all, three Americans are killed at the compound, and three others wounded. When the assault ends, Stevens cannot be found.
5:28 p.m. Eastern time (11:28 p.m. in Cairo): The Cairo embassy’s Twitter account posts a series of messages, apparently responding to criticism that its earlier statement had been too sympathetic with the protesters. “Of course we condemn breaches of our compound, we’re the ones actually living through this,” one says. “Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry,” says another.
Around 7 p.m. Eastern time (1 a.m. in Benghazi): Stevens is received at Benghazi Medical Center. He is dead on arrival, a hospital source later said. A Libyan doctor told the Associated Press that Stevens died of asphyxia, likely caused by smoke inhalation. U.S. officials said they would not know for sure until an autopsy is performed.
About 7:30 p.m. Eastern time (1:30 a.m. in Cairo): The Cairo embassy’s Twitter account posts another message, since deleted. News sites like Buzzfeed have said it read: “This morning’s condemnation (issued before protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy.”
7:45 p.m. Eastern time: The Associated Press moves a news alert, reporting the death of at least one American in the Benghazi attack.
10:08 p.m. Eastern time: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issues a statement on the attack in Benghazi. “I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today... 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.”
10:09 p.m. Eastern time: GOP candidate Mitt Romney issues a statement on the attacks, attacking Obama. The statement is “embargoed” until midnight, meaning that media organizations are not supposed to publish it until then. “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 says.
10:10 p.m. Eastern time. POLITICO reports that the Obama administration distanced itself from the Cairo embassy’s original statement. “The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government,” an administration official told POLITICO. Jake Tapper of ABC news also reported the same statement.
12:01 a.m. Eastern time: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweets, “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”
7:21 a.m. Eastern time: President Obama announces that Stevens was among those killed in the Benghazi attack. In the statement, Obama says he “strongly condemn(s)” the attack. “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.”
10:15 a.m. Eastern time: Romney makes an appearance in Jacksonville, Fla, and reiterates his criticism of the Obama administration. “I also believe the Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions. It’s never too early for the United States Government to condemn attacks on Americans, and to defend our values.”