Kerry: Slain journalists are 'martyrs for liberty'

Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryHow the US could help Australia develop climate action Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power No. 2 State Department official to travel to China amid tensions MORE said the journalists and cartoonists killed in a mass shooting at a French satirical newspaper Wednesday were "martyrs for liberty."

Kerry condemned the attack in a statement before reporters at the State Department Wednesday and said he agreed with a French imam who called the victims "martyrs."

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“They [the attackers] may wield weapons but we in France and the United States share a commitment to those who wield something that is far more powerful,” Kerry said. “Not just a pen, but a pen that represents an instrument of freedom, not fear. Free expression and a free press are core values.”

French authorities say a dozen people were killed and more wounded in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a weekly newspaper known for its provocative cartoons. The offices of the newspaper had been previously targeted after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, and the outlet recently published a cartoon mocking the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Kerry said the shootings were “part of a larger confrontation ... between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world.”

“The freedom of expression that [Charlie Hebdo] represented is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror,” he continued. “On the contrary, it will never be eradicated by any act of terror. What these people who do these things don’t understand is they will only strengthen the commitment to that freedom and our commitment to a civilized world.”

Earlier Wednesday, President Obama vowed in a written statement that the U.S. would provide “any assistance needed” to help bring those responsible to justice. The shooters fled the scene, and French authorities are currently conducting a city-wide manhunt.

The U.S. embassy in Paris, located close to the newspaper's headquarters, said there were "no plans to close the U.S. Embassy in Paris or other diplomatic facilities in France."

Kerry said that the U.S. stood with the French, “in solidarity and commitment both to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause that the extremists fear so much, and which has always united our countries: freedom.”

The secretary of State, whose mother was born in Paris and who learned French as a child, also spoke about what he described as a “horrific attack” directly to French citizens in their native tongue.