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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 bring the terrorists to justice.

Obama said the attack that left 12 dead in France's deadliest terror attack in at least two decades is a reminder that such incidents occur anywhere in the world.

"The fact that this was an attack on journalists, an 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.

"The one thing that I'm very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, the universal belief in freedom of expression, is something that can't be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few," Obama 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!" in flawless, unaccented French. France raised its security alert to the highest level and schools closed across Paris, as thousands jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor the victims.

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. He said he hoped to speaker later in the day with French President Francois Hollande.

"For us to see the kid of cowardly evil attacks that took place today I think reinforces why it's so important for us to stand in solidarity with them just as they stand in solidarity with us," Obama said.

Earlier Kerry, who has visited Paris more than any other foreign city as America's top diplomat, spoke 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.

NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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