Yesterday’s double bombing near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon was a stunning reminder that our war on terrorism is far from over, and that it is getting very close to home.
Boston was well prepared to deal with such a sudden mass casualty event, and should serve as an example to the rest of the country of just how important and necessary preparedness really is. It was also fortuitous that the event was a marathon, requiring many first responders to be on hand – medics and police who were ready for whatever might happen.
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. The first one was held in 1897, challenging the participants in a 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton, MA to Boston. Yesterday, terrorists selected this iconic marathon for a vicious, deadly, and cowardly attack against civilians. Now, twenty four hours later, the news is still trickling in piece by piece, and the story is still incomplete, as it is likely to be for some time. As it comes together, we will have a better idea of what we may be up against.
The first moments after the first bomb exploded shows many people running in to help.
Here’s what we now know, although it will no doubt continue to change over the coming hours:
The bombs were apparently constructed from pressure cookers, and according to surgeons from Mass General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center, they were loaded with headless nails and metal pellets, to inflict the most damage on soft tissue and bone. They were put into black nylon bags and placed in or near street trash barrels. Although the nature of the explosives is not yet known, the effect was devastating.
More than 175 people were injured, and three were killed in the blasts: 8-year old Martin Richard, 29 year old Krystle Campbell, and Lingzi Lu, a Chinese graduate student at Boston University. Most of the injuries were burns from the explosion and severe damage to legs by both the shrapnel and the explosive blast wave. Despite the severity of some of the injuries, including severe blood loss, there have been no further deaths. It was the good fortune of the victims that the marathon was held in Boston, America’s premiere city for superb medical care and a wealth of experience and training. They were prepared for a mass casualty event and were able to not only absorb the large number of injured, but save the lives of all the remaining victims, even those who had originally been deemed mortally wounded. By this morning, all had been stabilized.
Authorities announced yesterday that a Saudi student , who was also injured in the blast, was a person of interest. Today, he was officially ruled out as a suspect, and the search is now on in earnest for the person or persons who planted the bombs.
Who May Have Engineered the Bombing
The type of pressure cooker bomb used in the Boston bombing has been seen in conflicts in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, leading some to the idea that this attack was likely a product of al Qaeda or an al Qaeda-linked group.
One argument against al Qaeda’s involvement is that no one has taken responsibility for the attack, something al Qaeda usually does with pride.
It has also been characteristic of al Qaeda to plan attacks meticulously and deploy them with simple, well-thought-out execution. However, al Qaeda has also either supported or inspired several primitive and unsuccessful bombings by would-be jihadis. Among them were the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, and the Times Square bomber, one of whose devices was also a pressure cooker.
It has been a aim of al Qaeda to design an attack to kill or maim as many people as possible. Although the Boston Marathon draws over 20,000 runners and half a million observers, they are spread out over a 26.2 mile course, so the damage would necessarily be limited to whomever was in the immediate vicinity of wherever the bomb went off.
Finally, al Qaeda bombers are typically suicide bombers, while this one was not.
al Qaeda has been labeled, inappropriately I think, our primary enemy by a number of federal agencies. That disregards the existence of many other groups, some of them quite powerful, who are equally dedicated to disrupting and ultimately destroying American life as we know it. So blaming this attack on al Qaeda may be too easy a guess, and may rule out other very real possibilities. It’s one theory, and here are two others.
Other Jihadis Hezbollah and Hamas, who are both clients of Iran, have very active, growing cells throughout the US, and Hamas has a long history of using nail and pellet laden bombs against Israelis. The Muslim Brotherhood also has a pervasive presence in the US, and although its strategy is to infiltrate American culture and law non-violently from within, it also supports Hamas, one of its off-spring, whose mission is much more violent. A host of other Islamist organizations, perhaps not as well organized or well known, also operate freely in the US.
Or a Terror-Supporting Nation It would not surprise me to know that Iran, for example, through its protégés Hezbollah and/or Hamas, may be behind this attack. Iran is eager to create distractions, such as what trusted sources have confirmed is a manufactured, Iranian-inspired nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is Iran’s active collaborator in the nuclear weapons program. The purpose of the current crisis is to turn the world’s attention away from Teheran while it puts the finishing touches on its own nuclear weapons program. Why not, then, use Hezbollah of Hamas to create another distraction – a terrorist attack against an arch enemy, the US, aiming it at a complex American icon incorporating the Boston Marathon, the city of Boston (often considered the cradle of American liberty), and Patriots’ Day?
Or a Lone Wolf And here is a third theory. Several years ago, al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula began publishing an English-language e-magazine in which they offered detailed instruction on how to maim and murder Americans with home-made bombs and other lethal devices. They recently published a Handbook with more of the same.
Someone with enough hate against Americans, the system, or any specific perceived grievance could use the on-line instructions to build a bomb. Anyone with access to a computer or copies of Inspire could be what the federal government seems to fear the most, the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist. It could be anyone with an agenda and a mind sick enough to carry it out. The materials are easy to get and the explanations are illustrated and relatively easy to follow. The style of attack appears to be consistent with Islamist jihad. But the tools are available to all.
Is this the future of America?
This is a new world, my friends, and we’d better get used to it. It is likely that there will be more such attacks throughout the populated areas of America. In addition to the known Islamist agendas that call for armed jihad, there is also the pressure from an imploding economy and an increasingly stressed population. Crimes of rage are becoming increasingly frequent and seriously more violent, something we reluctantly predicted when the world economy began to fail in 2009.
The question we must ask ourselves is what can we do now? How can we fix the seemingly unfixable and prevent more attacks such as we experienced yesterday?
How, in a free society, can we stop terrorists, whatever their motives, from targeting unprotected civilians? How can we keep our families, our communities, and our country safe, when unprovoked, deadly attacks are likely to define the future of our nation?
There is an answer, imperfect, but a better solution than what we have now. It requires the will of the American people to be part of the solution.
After 9/11, I urged my clients, my readers, and my audiences to empower themselves to be the “First Defenders” of America. I urged them to be alert and aware, to report what made them uneasy, and to be responsible for their own safety. The First Responders are ready to do their best, and they will come when they can. They will also stop what they can, when they can, but they cannot be everywhere.
It is the American people who are everywhere. We have to be America’s First Defenders. It means not being embarrassed to point out an unattended package or briefcase to security at the airport, or to police at a sporting event. It means calling police to suspicious behavior and reporting behavior that makes you fearful. It means being aware of your surroundings and willing to report the perceived danger.
This is not the same as being paranoid, or harassing, or just plain silly. These are dangerous times we live in – maybe more dangerous than ever before. Every one of us must be a soldier in the battle against the kind of terrorism that we saw yesterday in Boston. And we can be by empowering ourselves to be safe and smart.
America was built by the spirit of people who were self-reliant, self-sufficient, and who believed in the American dream. We must not let that dream be destroyed by madmen who want to destroy us, and turn our fondest dreams into our worst nightmare.
Ilana Freedman is Editor of GerardDirect.com. For more than twenty-five years, she has been a practicing, private sector intelligence analyst, providing corporate clients with intelligence-led counter-terrorism security solutions. She can be reached directly at ilana