Obama acknowledges California attack was terrorism

President Obama on Sunday night acknowledged that the U.S. is "at war with terrorism" and sought to assure Americans that the growing global terror threat will be defeated, following a series of deadly terror attacks on American soil and around the world.

"This was an act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people," Obama said in his first Oval Office address since 2010, showing the magnitude of the situation. "I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.

He spoke four days after terrorists apparently associated with the Islamic State fatally shot 14 people and wounded dozens more in San Bernardino, Calif.,  and after last month’s Paris bombing attacks that killed 130.

He said the San Bernardino attack was inspired by ISIS, as the group is also called, but that so far the attack does not appear connected to a larger terror network.

Authorities say a husband-wife team carried out the attack and that the wife pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader in a Facebook post.

Though Obama said there was no evidence that the shooters were directed by a terror network overseas or part of a broader plot, he said they "had gone down the dark path of radicalization."

He also acknowledged in his 13-minute address that the global terror threat has entered a "new phase."

The president offered no new or specific changes in the effort in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attack and several other smaller-scale attacks in recent weeks.

However, he called on Congress to tighten America's visa waiver program and to pass a new authorization for military actions underway against IS in Iraq and Syria.

The effort so far has been a U.S.-led bombing campaign, non-combat U.S. support troops in Iraq and roughly 50 Special Forces members in Syria.

Obama also reiterated his call for tightening U.S. gun laws, saying no matter how effective law enforcement and intelligence are, they can't identify every would-be shooter. He called it a matter of national security to prevent potential killers from getting guns.

"People are really scared," Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said afterward. "Nothing in this speech tonight is going to (calm) people's fears."

He also said Obama offered "nothing new" and that tighter gun control would not have prevented the San Bernardino attacks.

Obama has been criticized for years for what critics is his failure to recognize the Islamic State's growing threat, calling the group a "JV squad" and saying the Paris attacks were a "setback."

"I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure," he said, speaking from a lectern in his West Wing office.

While Obama has spoken frequently about the Islamic State in recent news conferences and other events, the decision to speak in prime-time reflected concern among his advisers that his message isn't breaking through.

The White House has been particularly concerned about the heated rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates about Muslims.

The president also implored Americans to not turn against Muslims at home, saying the Islamic State was driven by a desire to spark a war between the West and Islam. Still, he called on Muslims in the U.S. and around the world to take up the cause of fighting extremism.

The spread of radical Islam, he said, is "a real problem that Muslims most confront without excuse." And he said that Muslims in America must not be treated differently.

"If we do that we lose," Obama said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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