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Romney, Obama campaigns trade barbs over attacks on US embassy in Egypt

After nearly a daylong campaign hiatus in commemoration of 9/11, the fight for the White House resumed with Republican hopeful Mitt Romney and President Obama’s campaigns trading barbs over the attacks on the American embassy in Egypt and the American consulate in Libya.

“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," Romney said in a statement. "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.”

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An Obama campaign spokesman responded to Romney.

“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,” said Ben LaBolt.

The two statements were released before reports confirming that four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attacks were sparked by anger over an anti-Islam video posted to YouTube in July. The Wall Street Journal reported the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims," was directed by an Israeli-American real estate developer and promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who had controversially burned copies of the Quran, resulting in violent protests.

In a statement posted earlier Tuesday, the embassy of the United States in Cairo had condemned "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

The statement, looking to diffuse tensions with the protestors, invoked the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy," the statement read. "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."

Romney’s campaign quickly pounced on that statement, with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus joining in the attack. “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic,” tweeted Priebus.

It is not clear whether that Cairo statement was approved or cleared by Obama Administration officials in Washington. But as the protests turned violent and armed militants charged the American missions, the State Department issued a strongly-worded condemnation. 

"We can confirm that our office in Benghazi, Libya, has been attacked by a group of militants. We are working with the Libyans now to secure the compound," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "We condemn in strongest terms this attack on our diplomatic mission."

This story was last updated at 8:51 a.m.