Boston Marathon attacks: Who did it? Al Qaeda, militias, lone wolf?

Agents from several federal agencies including the FBI and ATF arrive on scene after explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Credit: Reuters
Several federal agencies, including the FBI and ATF, are taking part in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.
Credit: Reuters

The plan behind Monday’s Boston Marathon attack was obvious: to get maximum exposure in front of running TV cameras. But who carried out the attack? On Tuesday investigators still lacked a clear motive.

“The attack could be the work of al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate,” said Dr. James Forest, a professor of terrorism at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, near Boston. “Al Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, often attacks public events. The perpetrator could also be a lone wolf, whether inspired by al Qaeda or not. Or it could be domestic terrorists. In that case, the day would matter more than the target.”

That’s because April 15 was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts – and the last day for Americans to file their tax returns. For most Americans, Tax Day is filled with dread as they rush to fill in complicated forms. For anti-government extremists, it’s a day of rage towards government institutions.

But, noted Forest: “Anti-government extremists usually attack government buildings, as Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, not international events.”

According to Alexia Ash, head of North America Forecasting at the political risk firm Exclusive Analysis, the perpetrator’s (or perpetrators’) goal was to cause mass casualties, not to attack buildings or specific people.

In fact, the Boston Marathon may have been a target of convenience. Observers point out that the attack was carefully planned, with the bombs going off at the finishing line, where TV cameras would capture the attack live.

“At other major sporting events like the Olympics or the Superbowl, where staff funnel spectators through security procedures, marathons are relatively easy to access,” Forest said. “Anybody can show up with a backpack.”

That’s likely to change now.


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