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After Boston, Jihadists Celebrated While the World Wept

04/17/2013 05:11 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT
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The world's oldest and America's most prestigious marathon, the Boston Marathon, was attacked on Monday April 15, 2013. Dating back to 1897, the marathon is always held on Patriot's Day, when Americans commemorate the opening battle of the America's Revolutionary War. The attack demonstrated the continuing threat of terrorism and the vulnerability of the U.S. homeland. The incident should be classified as a terrorist attack for three reasons.

First, the attack targeted ordinary civilians at a public event.

Second, the attackers used explosives, an indiscriminate weapon.

Third, the attack was deliberately aiming to inflict death, injury and create mass fear and panic.

The Context

The terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon will have implications for future international sporting events. The London Marathon, scheduled for Sunday April 21, was the world's largest marathon as of 2012 with 36,748 finishing the 26.2-mile race and an estimated 50,000 spectators. The London Marathon will be held as scheduled amidst tighter security but both participants and spectators will be cautious.

The attack on the Boston Marathon demonstrates not only the threat to the U.S. homeland but also to international sporting events. Two crude homemade devices exploding ten seconds and 550-feet apart killed three and injured 176 spectators and competitors from all over the world.

International and domestic terrorism remains a tier-one national security threat to the West, and especially to the United States, including to its homeland. Motivation for contemporary terrorism comes from five categories of ideologies: politico-religious, right-wing, left-wing, ethno-political, and single-issue. Although it is too early to identify the group responsible for the Boston attack, the international focus is on detecting and disrupting terrorist attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda, its associated groups, and home-grown cells.

Terrorist Reaction to the Attack

In response to the Boston attacks, terrorists and their supporters expressed their joy and hope that the blasts were "acts of jihadi terrorism." According to SITE, the world's leading research centre responsible for monitoring terrorist support and operational activity on the web, "one forum member noted that over a week ago, a jihadist announced his desire to plan bombings in the United States, but was chastized by others for revealing such a plot publicly." The reference is to a posting on the Ansar al-Mujahideen forum on April 1 in which "a jihadist tried to recruit members for an attack similar in impact to al-Qaeda's 9/11 strikes, but seemed focused on the attack being a suicide bombing." In other posts on the Ansar al-Mujahideen, al-Fida' and Shumukh al-Islam forums, SITE reported "jihadists gave pictures circulated in the media of the aftermath, showing injured people and a bloody sidewalk, and some hoped more bombings will follow."

Terrorists have been traditionally interested in targeting sporting venues. For example, al-Qaeda strategist Abu Musab al-Suri recommended targeting sporting events in the ninth issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) English-language magazine, Inspire. In the ninth issue released in May 2012, AQAP directed jihadists to attack particular targets by way of Suri's writing, and offered to communicate with them to plan strategy. According to SITE, in "The Jihadi Experiences: The Most Important Enemy Targets Aimed at by Individual Jihad," Suri identified civilians as among the most important targets in America and Western countries in general, and noted annual social events and crowded sports arenas as examples. The translation reads: "Striking civilians in general, to deter them or for retaliation (avoiding women and children when separated from men in places especially designed for them, like schools and the similar). This for example... is when responding to a brutal practice carried out by America and her allied forces. The type of attack, which repels states and topples governments, is mass slaughter of the population. This is done by targeting human crowds in order to inflict maximum human losses. This is very easy since there are numerous such targets such as crowded sports arenas, annual social events, large international exhibitions, crowded marketplaces, sky-scrapers, crowded buildings... etc."

Take-home Lessons

Every successful terrorist attack is an intelligence failure. However, managing the security of open events is challenging. Protecting a vast recreational environment, with tens of thousands of people lining the street, is hard. As opposed to stadiums and arenas, which have choke points to entries and parking lots where scanners and bomb sniffing dogs can be used, securing a race raises many challenges. Nonetheless, thorough preparation can prevent, deter, and mitigate the impact of such an attack. In the case of the Boston attack, the swift response by the U.S. government mitigated the impact of the bombings. The law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and Britain are better prepared to respond to such threats than authorities in any other country.

At a time when the U.S.-led coalition forces are planning for their withdrawal from Afghanistan, a terrorist attack in the West, especially in the U.S., will embolden terrorist thinking and action. Al Qaeda, associated groups, and homegrown cells will seek to harness support from Muslim communities. SITE monitored administrators of Shumukh al-Islam, the primary source for official messages from al-Qaeda, placing two scrolling messages atop the forum in reaction to the Boston attack, the first stating: "Urgent // Casualties and Injuries in an Explosion that Shook the US State of Boston, and a State of Panic and Chaos Spreads Across America in General," and the second giving an oft-repeated statement from the al-Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden: "I swear by Allah the Great, who raised the sky without pillars, that America and those who live in America will not dream of security until we live it as a reality in Palestine and until all the disbelieving armies are expelled from the land of Muhammad, Allah's peace and prayer be upon him."

WARNING: Some of the photos and videos from the scene may be graphic and disturbing.

GRAPHIC WARNING: Boston Marathon explosion