Even as President Barack Obama strongly condemned the “outrageous attack” on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in which Washington’s Ambassador to the country, Chris Stevens, was killed, a row erupted here over leading conservatives’ remarks criticising the government for its initial response to the incident.

Delivering a statement at the White House alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama said Ambassador Stevens and the three other U.S. citizens killed should give every American great pride. “At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi,” he added.

Speaking at the State Department earlier Ms. Clinton sharply hit back at comments from conservative leaders including Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, who said that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathise with those who waged the attacks.”

Touching upon the violence being linked to a controversial film made in the U.S. by Sam Bacile, described alternatively as a Jewish-Israeli individual and a member of the Egyptian Coptic diaspora, the Secretary clarified: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behaviour as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet... But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Her remarks came after Mr. Romney and other Republicans such as former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin issued statements criticising the U.S. embassy in Cairo for condemning the “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

Ms. Clinton too noted that the U.S. deplored any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, adding that the government was working to protect “our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.” According to anonymous officials speaking to Reuters news agency an anti-terrorist security team of Marines were said to be en route to Libya to offer further protection to U.S. personnel.

The Secretary also said that in the assault on the compound by “heavily armed militants” Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information management officer, was killed. It was an attack that “should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world,” she urged.

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