The administration’s public assessment began to shift when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress in a morning appearance that the attacks were “a cruel act of terror.”

Appearing on television a short while afterward, Obama said the events in Boston were a “heinous cowardly act, and given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism.”

“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why. Whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That’s what we don’t yet know.”

The president praised those who had come to the aid of the injured.

“If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid,” he said.

Obama stepped to the microphone after receiving a briefing at the White House from Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other top aides.

The bombs exploded on Monday afternoon near the finish line of the famed Boston Marathon, an annual 26 mile race through the neighborhoods of the city.

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