WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama called Wednesday's deadly shooting at a satirical newspaper in Paris "cowardly evil attacks" on journalists and a free press and vowed to help France pursue the terrorists who went on the run.
Obama said the attack that left 12 dead in France's deadliest terror attack in at least two decades is a reminder that such tragedies can occur anywhere in the world. He promised to stay vigilant and "hunt down and bring the perpetrators of this specific act to justice, and to roll up the networks that help to advance these kinds of plots."
"The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press," Obama said from the Oval Office during a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.
"But the one thing that I'm very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief — a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can't be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few," he added.
Obama later telephoned French President Francois Hollande from Air Force One en route to Detroit for a speech. Obama offered his condolences and expressed solidarity with Hollande and the people of France, the White House said in a statement. Obama also offered help from the United States as France tries to bring the perpetrators of the attack, and any possible accomplices, to justice.
Hollande thanked Obama for his support and updated the president on steps to care for victims and arrest those responsible, the White House said.
Three masked gunmen stormed the office of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo at noon-time on Wednesday and then escaped in a car. Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other controversial sketches.
Witnesses said the shooters shouted "Allahu akbar!" France raised its security alert to the highest level, as thousands honored the victims from Republique Square in Paris.
"What that beautiful city represents — the culture and the civilization that is so central to our imaginations — that's going to endure," Obama said. "And those who carry out senseless attacks against innocent civilians, ultimately they'll be forgotten."
Earnest said U.S. officials have been in touch with French counterparts but it's "still in the early stages" of figuring out who was responsible for the attack and he couldn't say whether the gunmen were tied to a specific terror group.
"We're still trying to figure out who is responsible for this attack and what their motivations are but as a general matter, we're very mindful of the threat from foreign fighters and the need to try to counter some of the extremist ideology that ISIL is propagating," Earnest said, using an acronym for Islamic State militants.
Asked about what responsibility news organizations had when it comes to publishing provocative material, Earnest said, "There is no legitimate act of journalism — however offensive some people might find it — that justifies an act of violence, particularly an act of violence on the scale we saw today. That said, it is up to media organizations to make their own decisions about what they choose to publish, what stories they choose to pursue and what sort of commentary they want to broadcast about the world."
Obama called France one of America's strongest allies in dealing with terrorists and said they had been with the U.S. "every moment" since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"For us to see the kind of cowardly evil attacks that took place today I think reinforces once again why it's so important for us to stand in solidarity with them, just as they stand in solidarity with us," Obama said.
Obama said he would be talking with Kerry about protecting Americans living across the globe. Later, Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco told MSNBC that there's no evidence of any threat to U.S. personnel in Paris.
Kerry, who has visited Paris more than any other foreign city as America's top diplomat, spoke earlier from the State Department in both English and French to offer America's support.
"I would like to say directly to the people of Paris and of all of France that each and every American stands with you today — not just in horror or in anger or in outrage at this vicious act of violence — but we stand with you in solidarity and in commitment both to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause which the extremists fear so much," Kerry said.
Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler
BEFORE YOU GO
01/09/2015 11:02 PM EST
Pro-Israel Rally In Amsterdam Scrapped
A pro-Israel rally set for January 11 in Amsterdam was "postponed because of the current situation in Paris," the organizers Holland4Israel announced. A new date for the event was not given.
01/09/2015 9:24 PM EST
Prosecutor Reveals Details From Sieges
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins revealed more details of the siege that killed the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly, the Telegraph reports.
- The brothers had a loaded M82 rocket launcher, two Kalashnikov machine guns and two automatic pistols.
- Coulibaly had a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Skorpion military pistol.
"On the body of one of the terrorists, the demining teams also found a grenade that had been positioned as a trap," Molins said.
01/09/2015 9:16 PM EST
Police Continue Search For Possible Accomplice
French police continued to search for Hayat Boumeddiene, a 26-year-old woman who is suspected of being an accomplice in the Paris attacks, ITV reports.
As of early Saturday morning, Boumeddiene is believed to still be on the run. She is a suspect in the killing of female police officer in Paris on Thursday, and is thought to have been the girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed by police on Friday.
01/09/2015 9:09 PM EST
'Paris is Charlie' Projected On Paris' Arc De Triomphe
01/09/2015 8:23 PM EST
Hacktivist Group Anonymous Vows Revenge For Charlie Hebdo Attack
Hacktivist group Anonymous released a video in which it states that it will shut down jihadist websites to avenge the Charlie Hebdo attack.
01/09/2015 8:20 PM EST
Prosecutor: Brothers Extensively Coordinated With Other Suspects
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said that the Kouachi brothers had spoken on the phone more than 500 times with Amedy Coulibaly and his girlfriend Hayat Boumedienne, prior to the Paris attacks, the Guardian reports.
Both the Kouach brothers and Coulibaly were killed in dual sieges on Friday.
01/09/2015 8:15 PM EST
Memorial Outside Charlie Hebdo Offices In Paris
Pens, flowers, a flag, and a bottle of wine. Vive la France... pic.twitter.com/6MBaXWHkjd— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) January 10, 2015
01/09/2015 6:14 PM EST
Footage Of French Raid On Terror Suspects In Dammartin
France's National Gendarmerie released footage of its special forces raiding the printing house in Dammartin-en-Goele where the two Charlie Hebdo attack suspects were holding a person hostage.
The National Gendarmerie also released a picture of the hostage, with their face blurred, being led to safety after the raid. Both of the suspects were killed.
01/09/2015 5:44 PM EST
Yemen Launches Investigation Into Al Qaeda Link To France Attacks
Yemen's Spokesperson in Washington Mohammed Albasha writes on Twitter that Yemen has launched an investigation into possible connections between Al Qaeda's branch in the country, and the attacks in France.
01/09/2015 5:37 PM EST
Al Qaeda In Yemen's Statement On The Attacks
Al Qaeda's Yemen branch released an audio statement on the attacks in France, after a member of the group told the Associated Press they had "directed" the assault on Charlie Hebdo.
Soon after, the branch's senior cleric Sheikh Harith al-Nadhari issued a recording on the group's Twitter feed commenting on the "blessed raid on Paris." He denounced the "filthy" French and called them "the heads of infidelity who insult the prophets." He praised the "hero mujahedeen" who he said "taught them a lesson and the limits of freedom of speech."
Al-Nadhari stopped short of directly claiming responsibility for the attack, but added, "How can we not fight those who hurt our prophet, slandered our religion and fought the faithful."
Addressing the French, he said, "It better for you to stop striking Muslims so you can live in peace. But if you only wish for war, then rejoice, you will not enjoy peace as long as you wage war on God and his prophets and fight Muslims."
It was not immediately clear why al-Nadhari did not outright said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the attack. The member told the AP that the group as delaying its official declaration of responsibility for "security reasons."