Terror in Boston
By Nayyer Ali MD
America suffered its first real terror attack since 9/11 as two small bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. The attack wounded well over 100 people and took the lives of at least three, including one small boy. While terrorism like this has been a fact of life for many other parts of the world, the painful sting of 9/11 had faded somewhat in the United States, and so this event galvanized the nation’s attention.
The obvious question on everyone’s mind is who did this, and why. While the US has been engaged in a war with Al-Qaeda, and has been involved in two ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, there has been no successful Al-Qaeda linked attack inside the US in over 11 years. A few small plots have been broken up that had tenuous links to outside, and there was the case of the Major Nidal Hassan who shot up Fort Hood in a “lone-wolf” style attack in 2009. For Muslim-Americans, there was the familiar double twinge of pain over the attack itself, and the fear that perhaps a Muslim was responsible, reinforcing all the negative stereotypes and assumptions made about us since 9/11.
So far the investigation appears to have no obvious suspects. It is interesting to compare it to 9/11, where by that afternoon it was well known in the White House who had done it, and by the next morning the names and photos of the hijackers were in the newspapers. But this time the picture is very cloudy.
Who could it be? A Muslim motivated by a desire to punish the US for its foreign policy or to try to change that policy certainly has to be considered. The real Al-Qaeda under Bin Laden’s actual control no longer exists, and probably had nothing to do with this in any real operational sense, though the bomber may have communicated with radical elements much like Nidal Hassan appeared to have done. But there are several elements that point away from an Al-Qaeda style attack.
First, it was a true bombing, not a suicide bombing where the attacker killed himself in the process. Suicide bombing is a hallmark of Jihadi attacks. In addition, there has been no claim of responsibility. If there was a political element to the attack, it would seem that taking credit for it and making demands or declaring your grievances should follow the event. The refusal to take credit implies the bomber is trying to “get away with it”, which is not a signature of Jihadi attacks. Third, terrorism in general has a certain dramatic theatrical quality to it. 9/11 seemed like a bad movie to many who didn’t realize they were watching the real thing when they first saw those planes on TV hitting the towers. There is certainly a desire to attack a high profile target, one that is instantly recognized as important. Now to Boston, the Marathon is important, and to Americans who are big sports fans, the Boston Marathon is a major event, but to the rest of the world, it is rather meaningless. It is not the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA Championships. It is also not New York or DC or LA. It is Boston, which has a great history and is the major city of New England, but it is not anything more significant than a number of other US cities. A foreign Muslim terrorist would not obviously pick that as a target.
Another theory that is making the rounds is a disgruntled anti-government right wing fanatic, basically another Tim McVeigh. An American would know the Boston Marathon as a target, though why that instead of a government building is still a mystery. It was April 15, which is tax day, and it was the same week as April 19, which is the anniversary of the assault on Waco compound of the Branch Davidians in 1993 and the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, both of which have significance to the anti-government fanatics. There is certainly a belief in the extreme right that Obama is taking the country down the rathole of socialism and must be stopped, though how this attack would do that is not obvious. The right wing fanatic theory has its holes too.
A final possibility is some local Boston sociopath with some kind of grudge against the city. The bomb itself was rather simple, and the instructions for making it can be googled easily. That would fit with the fact that the bomber appears to be trying his best to evade detection and capture. My initial reaction was that this was unfortunately but likely going to be a Muslim, but now I’m not sure. It may turn out finding the bomber will be more difficult than many imagined in the day or two after the bombing.