September 12, 2012 / 7:39 PM / in 5 years

Romney's account of Egypt embassy incident in doubt

(Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has criticized the Obama administration for sympathizing with radical Islamists after the U.S. embassy in Cairo was breached by protesters, but the accuracy of his account is in question.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens to questions on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, in Jacksonville, Florida, September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

At the center of his criticism is a statement by the embassy condemning a film about the Prophet Mohammad that angered Islamists who stormed the building on Tuesday and burned the U.S. flag. The American ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff were killed in an attack in Benghazi to protest the same movie.

Romney said the embassy in Cairo denounced the film - called “Innocence of Muslims” - after the mission in Egypt was stormed, suggesting that President Barack Obama’s administration had bowed to pressure from demonstrators.

But Reuters correspondents in Cairo said the embassy posted the statement on its Facebook page on Tuesday morning before the protest began, not after it had started.

A senior U.S. official also said the statement, which condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” was released before any demonstrations had begun.

The statement was later pulled from the Internet because it was not coordinated with the State Department in Washington, the official said.

On Tuesday night, Romney said it was “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.”

On Wednesday, the Republican candidate again criticized the embassy.

“The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached. Protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it is a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” he said in Jacksonville, Florida.

Romney campaign officials said that even after the embassy was stormed, it sent several Twitter messages referring to its earlier statement as well as condemning the embassy protests.

Critics, including some Republican allies, said Romney was too quick to use the Libya and Egypt incidents as fodder for a campaign attack before knowing the full extent of what happened in the two North African countries.

His statement on Tuesday broke a self-imposed truce on criticizing the president on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Reporting by Tamim Elyan in Cairo and Alistair Bell in Washington; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Will Dunham

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