White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP
February 10, 2015 5:09 PM EST

Obama Administration officials rushed Tuesday to clarify President Obama’s recent remarks that many felt implied that anti-Semitic attacks in Paris last month were “random.”

In an interview with Vox posted Monday, Obama said, “It’s entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” referring to an attack on a Kosher deli on Jan. 9 that left four dead.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, members of the media pushed White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on the president’s use of the word “randomly” given the apparent anti-Semitic motivation for the killings.

“I believe the point that the president was trying to make is that these individuals were not specifically targeted,” Earnest replied. “These were individuals who happened to randomly be in this deli and were shot while they were there.”

Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the State Department, also took to Twitter to clarify:

In the briefing, Earnest said the controversy merely came down to sentence structure.

“If you want to question the president’s placement of the adverb in the sentence, the adverb in this case being ‘randomly,’ you can,” he said. “But that’s the point the president was trying to make.”

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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