Obama Spokesman on Islam: 'It's a Peaceful Religion'

By Susan Jones | January 7, 2015 | 8:16am EST

Police officers and firemen gather outside the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's office, in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. Masked gunmen stormed the offices of a French satirical newspaper Wednesday, killing 12 people before escaping, police and a witness said. The weekly has previously drawn condemnation from Muslims. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

(CNSNews.com) - "This is a terrible act of violence, and one that we condemn in the strongest possible terms," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday morning, shortly after masked gunman killed 12 people at the offices of a satirical newspaper in Paris that has made fun of the Prophet Mohammed.

French President Francois Hollande called Tuesday's massacre a terror attack, but Earnest did not: He used the phrase "terrible act of violence" three times, and he also called Islam a "peaceful religion."

"This violent extremism is something that the world has been dealing with for more than a decade now," Earnest said. "And we obviously are trying to monitor what we consider to be a really important threat, which is this threat of foreign fighters. So it is clear that ISIL does harbor the ambition to try and radicalize people all across the globe, and one core component of our strategy has been to mobilize the ...leaders in the Muslim community, particularly the moderate voices in the Muslim community, to talk about what the values of Islam really are. It's a peaceful religion.

"And it's terrible that we're seeing some radical extremists attempt to use some of the values and tenets of that religion and distort them greatly and inspire people to commit terrible acts of violence."

Without getting ahead of the breaking news in France, Earnest said the Obama administration is "very cognizant of this threat posed by foreign fighters, that's posed by ISIL's attempt to use social media in a rather sophisticated way -- to try to inspire people around the globe to commit other acts of violence, and it's something we work very closely with our allies on a daily basis to combat."

Earnest said the "thoughts and prayers" of President and Mrs. Obama are with the families of those who were killed in France, and also with the French people.

"We're still, obviously in the very early stages of trying to figure out what exactly happened, who was responsible, and what their motivation was.

Earnest called the French "stalwart allies" in the fight to "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," and he said France also is cooperating in the effort to stop foreign fighters from waging terrorism in their home countries.

"We know that they are not going to be cowed by this terrible act of violence," he said.

Later Wednesday morning, appearing on CNN, Earnest was asked, "Do you see this as an act of terrorism?"

"Well, you know, I think based on what we know right now it does seem like that's what we're confronting here...and if, based on this investigation, it turns out to be an act of terrorism, then we would condemn that in the strongest possible terms, too."

Earnest said it's not just an attack on the people of France and on innocent civilians-- "This is an attack on some of the basic values that we hold dear here in this country -- basic values of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and the free press, that is also held dear by our allies in France.

"So this is something that we take very seriously, it's something that we condemn...in the strongest possible terms."

Earnest said President Obama is still planning to travel to a Ford plant  in Detroit on Wednesday, "to talk about what is a good news story, which is the tremendous progress that the American auto industry has made over the last five or six year ...thanks to policies this administration put in place..."

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