Washington — The United States is a nation that respects all religious faiths, and it rejects efforts by anyone to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, President Obama said in the aftermath of an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized that message in remarks September 12 in Washington following the Benghazi attack on September 11 that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, and two other diplomats assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. The names of the two other victims have not been released pending notification of their families.
The four diplomats had traveled from the Tripoli embassy to Benghazi in the hopes of helping evacuate other diplomats stationed at the small mission after it was attacked in a near six-hour battle by unknown extremists, according to senior U.S. officials. At least three other officials were injured in the attack.
The embassy in Tripoli has since been reduced to emergency staffing levels, and U.S. officials have asked the Libyan government for additional security support.
The September 11 attack on the mission is still under investigation, and many of the details of what happened in the eastern city of Benghazi are still unknown or unclear, a senior U.S. administration official said in a late September 12 briefing.
Even as the president and secretary of state emphasized sorrow at the loss of four U.S. diplomats in an attack by armed extremists who used machine guns, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, they emphasized a long-held and cherished American belief in the importance and value of religious freedom. The belief in religious freedom is considered so important to Americans that it is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
“America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” Clinton said in remarks at the State Department’s Treaty Room. She later joined the president at the White House for additional remarks to journalists.
“Let me be clear — there is no justification for this” attack, Clinton said. “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.”
“As long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace,” Clinton said.
Clinton praised Libyans who came to the aid of the U.S. diplomats, saying the attack was carried out by “a small and savage group — not the people or government of Libya.”
“When the attack came ... Libyans stood and fought to defend our post,” Clinton said. “Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body [Ambassador Stevens] to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety.”
“And last night, when I spoke with the president of Libya [Mohamed Yousef Magariaf], he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible,” Clinton said.
Obama telephoned President Magariaf September 12, their first conversation since Magariaf’s election in August, according to the White House. Obama thanked Magariaf for extending his condolences for the tragic deaths of the four Americans, according to the White House.
Obama "also expressed appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government and people in responding to this outrageous attack, and said that the Libyan government must continue to work with us to assure the security of our personnel going forward,” the White House said in a prepared statement.
Many of Obama’s remarks following the Benghazi attack echoed similar remarks he made June 4, 2009, at Cairo University in a global speech hosted by Al-Azhar University, the chief center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world.
“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition,” Obama said. “Instead they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Obama noted in his Cairo speech that there is a mosque in every U.S. state and more than 1,200 mosques in all within the United States. “So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America,” he said.
Obama emphasized to the Cairo audience that “America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.”