Terrorist bombings at Boston Marathon, three dead and many maimed or otherwise wounded; investigations underway

Two comparatively small bombs were detonated on a wide urban sidewalk near the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street killing at least three persons, including a child, maiming dozens, and injuring more than 100.  The bombings, within less than a minute of one another, appear to be acts of terrorism and are being investigated as such.  Their lethality apparently was magnified by the close proximity of a concentration of people, naturally in a peaceful civilian environment, not expecting to have to guard against such a threat.

In this deadly apparent terrorist attack on U.S. soil, attention now turns to helping the victims; forestalling additional attacks; and gathering and analyzing evidence to determine the precise methods used in the attack, as well as to ascertain the identity of the perpetrator(s) and secure their capture.

Conflicting reports circulated about the number of additional unexploded devices being disabled.  Some kind of small explosion at, or near, a library at a different location turned out to be possibly fire-related.

There are no small murders, but the bombs apparently were not large, such that fatalities and injuries were limited in number, and nearby buildings suffered what might have been just minimal damage.  There did not appear to be a crater, or much in the way of shock waves from the blasts. And some reports indicated that no high-grade explosives were detected.

Some terrorist bombs or military weapons inflict much more intense damage over a wide area.  Reportedly, a number of victims had ball bearings or other forms of shrapnel being removed from them at hospitals.

Security officials, apparently including, at a minimum, FBI and local law enforcement now have the task of interviewing witnesses, checking surveillance video, reviewing cellphone activity in the area, and inspecting the remains of the devices seeking to ascertain aspects of its design and materials.

The FBI has called the situation fluid, and has provided contact points for those with information that might be helpful to the investigation:

A multi-agency response including state and federal law enforcement agencies has been activated and is investigating the cause of the explosions along the Boston Marathon route and elsewhere. The FBI’s Boston Division stands with the Boston Police Department (BPD) and remains on-scene. The FBI is offering its assistance in whatever capacity BPD requires. The situation remains fluid, and it remains too early to establish the cause and motivation.

The FBI has set-up 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), prompt #3, for anyone who has information, visual images, and/or details regarding the explosions along the Boston Marathon route and elsewhere. No piece of information or detail is too small.

All media inquiries should be directed to the Boston Police Department at (617) 343-4520.

Terrorism

As with terrorist bombs set off in places such as cafes, buses or night clubs, ever smaller bombs in places where people are concentrated for peaceful purposes naturally increase the likelihood and extent of innocent casualties, including deaths.

The high profile nature of the Boston Marathon as a traditional civic and national event also magnifies the psychological and symbolic impact that terrorist acts sometimes have as an added focus.

The possible absence of military-grade materials or extensive firepower in the devices might raise questions about its origins, and whether it was likely actually to be connected with more powerful, sophisticated terrorist groups or terrorist states.

At the same time, there will have to be review about why any device was able to be set off in what was a fairly small area close to the most significant spot for a high profile event.  It would be the equivalent of setting off a bomb in proximity to the actual small stage of a political rally.

It did sound as if there were reports of an area that was, in fact, screened off, and of a potentially suspicious figure trying to gain access.

But just how secure was this area, and how was it screened?  Was identification necessary? Did the device use materials that would escape detection?

Given the prevalence of high profile events in the United States, it might be useful for Congress to hold hearings, and for joint bodies sharing ideas and information among the states and federal entities, to thoroughly examine the event as a case study for lessons learned and innovations to prevent a repeat.

Terrorism is an act of war.  For example, when a terrorism bombing in the 1980′s was traced to Libya, President Ronald Reagan responded by bombing Libya, using the U.S. military.

One issue that received special attention following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was the extent to which the United States could be at war with a  non-state actor such a free-standing terrorist group.

Given that terrorist attacks, almost by definition, are against civilian targets in areas that are at peace, their legal treatment, including the response, can be varied.  For example, even in wartime the deliberate targeting of civilians can be tried as a war crime, with the combatants carrying out the attacks losing combat immunity because of violations of the laws of war.

Yet, attacks against civilians in a peaceful area, not at war, are sometimes tried in civilian course, in a manner not wholly dissimilar from other murder prosecutions, although various laws can come into play.

What is important at this point is to gather information and analysis to determine what happened, why the threat was not adequately detected and forestalled, and how to eliminate future threats from the same source, and future threats of a similar kind.  Hopefully, much more information will be gathered and analyzed.

 

Even if that information is slow in coming, there needs to be study of what happens, for the purpose of determining lessons learned, to the extent feasible, to innovate against this kind of threat in the future.

Claims that it is not possible to provide security for the marathon might not be completely reasonable.  It certainly would be possible to provide more adequate security for the area near the finish line, the highest profile spot, as well as a much wider portion of the route.

Right now, the focus is on an area that is actually quite small.  In fact, the buffer near the finish line is a great deal smaller than, for example, the National Mall, which has huge areas screened for security for inaugurations or the Fourth of July.

Only the perpetrators are responsible for the heinous acts and their wanton disregard for human life.  The most important focus for the rest of us would be care and concern and prayers for the victims and their loved ones; investigation and analysis; the identification, apprehension and bringing of justice against the perpetrators; and lessons learned to improve protection of human life and well-being into the future, at similar events and generally.

On another note, irregardless of whether some authorities are correct in deeming the coordination of the crude attacks as being sophisticated, it is understandable that security would be stepped up in other major cities, or sensitive locations, while getting better bearings on exactly what has been unfolding, and how.

Links & Additional Reading

> Explosions kill three, wound scores in terror attack at Boston Marathon – The Hill 4.15.13

> Deadly Blasts Rock Boston; ‘Act of Terror’ Kills at Least Three, Injures More Than 110 as Bombs Wreak Carnage on Marathon Crowd – WSJ 4.15.13

> Updates on Investigation Into Multiple Explosions in Boston – FBI 4.15.13

> Explosion Expert Breaks Down the Boston Bombings – Bloomberg 4.15.13

> Triumph turns to terror as blasts hit Boston Marathon – Reuters 4.5.13

> Boston Marathon Transformed From Desisa Win to Terror Scene  - Bloomberg 4.15.13

> Video Of The Boston Marathon Explosions – ESPN 4.15.13

> Overwhelming kindness follows Boston Marathon blast – USA Today 4.15.13

Navy bomb unit sent to Boston – Boston Globe 4.15.13

> Intelligence panels to be briefed – The Hill 4.15.13

 


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