Streets Around White House Closed After Boston Attack

Melissa Block talks to Ari Shapiro for the latest from the White House on the explosions at the Boston Marathon.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We return now to the top news of the day. Two explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon in downtown Boston just before 3:00 p.m. At least two people are dead and over 100 wounded. Earlier this evening, President Obama spoke from the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn't jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this, we'll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.

BLOCK: We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. And Ari, what was the first the president learned of these attacks?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, according to White House officials, around 3:00 p.m. his Homeland Security counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, who's relatively new to the position, briefed the president on these explosions along with other senior staff in the Oval Office. Around that same time, Secret Service expanded the perimeter around the White House. They closed off Pennsylvania Avenue to tourists. That's the street that goes right in front of the White House gate.

Meanwhile the President was getting further briefings. We're told that he spoke with FBI director, Robert Muller; Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano. And, in fact, the White House released a Twitter photo showing the President having those conversations by phone in the Oval Office along with Lisa Monaco and his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, looking on.

BLOCK: And he's made calls to Massachusetts officials, of course, too.

SHAPIRO: Right. Two of the first calls he made were to Boston mayor, Tom Menino, and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. In that statement you just heard a bit of, he promised them the full support of the federal government, he says. And he said he made it clear that they have every single federal resource necessary to care for the victims and counsel the families. That's a quote.

He went on to say, above all, I made clear to them that all American's stand with the people of Boston. The president then called congressional leaders of both parties and he says he emphasized to them that, on days like this, as he put it, there are no Republican's or Democrats. We are American's united in concern for our fellow citizens.

BLOCK: Ari, there was a question shouted by a reporter at the end of the president's statement, was this terrorism, which he did not take on directly, and that was a word that was not part of his remarks today: terrorism or terror.

SHAPIRO: That's right. It was not a long statement, but it was notable that he did not use the word terrorism. Of course, the word can mean many things. It could mean an organized foreign attack like 9/11; it could mean domestic attack like Oklahoma City. You know, as you noted, he did not respond to the question as he was walking out of the room, but he did reiterate the point that you heard on that tape at the beginning, of retribution.

The last thing he said was, we will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.

BLOCK: Ari, other reaction that you're hearing from here in Washington today?

SHAPIRO: Well, other leaders have described this as terrorism. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California, chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. She said she had not yet been briefed, but told reporters, my understanding is that it is a terrorist incident. She says intelligence agencies reported no advance warning that there was an attack on the way.

Two other Senate Intelligence Committee members: Susan Collins, Republican of Maine; Angus King, also of Maine - they said it looked like multiple improvised explosive devices may have been involved and that that bears the hallmark of a terrorist attack. Apart from those statements, the House and the Senate both had a moment of silence. In the Senate, of course, led by Senator Harry Reid; in the House led by Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner released a statement saying, this is a terrible day for all Americans, but we will carry on in the American spirit and come together with grace and strength. His Democratic counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi, said, we will ensure that justice will be done.

BLOCK: And the President is saying the American people will say a prayer for Boston tonight. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaking with us from the White House. Ari, thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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