Live Reactions to the Boston Marathon Bombs

Posted: April 15, 2013 at 4:48 pm, Last Updated: April 19, 2013 at 11:55 am

Tweets relating to bombingsOn the 15th April, 2013  the Boston Marathon was hit by two explosions. To view Twitterdoms reaction to the tragic Boston bombings see 

Commentary by Richard M. Medina

The signature of this attack appears to point toward domestic attackers. Two bombs, twelve seconds from each other, concealed in backpacks at the finish line of a marathon. The bombs are thought to have been planned to explode at a time to inflict the most casualties. Three are dead and over one hundred seventy injured. The motivation and person(s) responsible are still unknown. What some have insinuated is that this “feels” like a domestic attack. It was simple and not grandiose enough for al-Qaeda to be a top suspect; however, they shouldn’t be completely counted out until more information is unveiled. Recent trends in Islamist terrorism indicate a shift toward further decentralization. As a result of successful counter terrorism activities al-Qaeda no longer wants prospective terrorists traveling to the Middle East for training or attacks. Their new geostrategy is to export trained individuals to countries of interest for training of homegrown terrorists, which could lead to less severe, but more attacks in the homeland. Quite possibly like the Boston attack.

President Obama stated that “any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror” (Fox News, 2013). This may lead many to believe this is an acknowledgement of terrorism by the government, though that may not be the case. Attacks against civilians can be acts of terror, in effect terrorizing the civilians; however, that does not necessarily equate them to acts of terrorism, which are necessarily politically or socially charged. Stating that identifying incidents as acts of terrorism is a complicated political process is an understatement. It is much too early to define these attacks.

So, what happened in Boston on April 15th? There is a great deal of speculation in the media over the attackers and motivations. Connections to the date/day (e.g., Patriot’s Day, the third Monday of April in which the first battles of the Revolutionary War are celebrated, as well as Tax Day, April 15th and Hitler’s birthday, April 20th) are suspected by some to have had a role in planning the Boston bombings, as they are believed to have played roles in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the Columbine high school murders in 1999, and the Virginia Tech murders in 2007. This might indicate that the attacks were acts of domestic terrorism. There have even been suspected connections between North Korea and the attacks, as April 15th was the birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, though these ideas have been identified more as conspiracy theories.

Connections to the bombing method (i.e., the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that was constructed with a pressure cooker and added shrapnel) can be traced to terrorist activity in the Middle East. According to the Department of Homeland Security, this technique has been used in Afghanistan and other regions for years (2004). Because of this, some suspect these attacks were acts of international terrorism. The first issue of the English language radical Islamist magazine Inspire (2010) mentions the use of a pressurized cooker as the “most effective method” for housing a specific type of IED. Detailed instructions are given in the article “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” by the AQ Chef. Other general instructions given are to 1) place the device in a crowded area and 2) camouflage the device with something, such as cardboard, that would not hinder the shrapnel. While the use of a pressure cooker is mentioned in Inspire, it is only in brief and this method has been used for decades in many parts of the world including Nepal (1990s, 2002), India (2003), France (2003), France (2004), India (2006), Pakistan (2010), New York (2010), Texas (2011), and Afghanistan (2013) among others (Department of Homeland Security, 2004; Vinograd and Dodds, 2013; Reed, 2013). Some of these incidents were led by terrorists trained in Afghan terrorist training camps or instructed by Inspire. This information in itself is not sufficient to suspect radical Islamists as having a role in these attacks. The use of pressure cookers for bombs has been instructed in other sources, such as the Anarchist Cookbook published in 1971 (Fischer, 2013), and even if the information was diffused from al-Qaeda sources, al-Qaeda manuals and other documents have been discussed and traded on public forums such as Stormfront, a forum for White Supremacists. What we see with pressure cooker IEDs may be a case of cultural convergence, in which many cultures and traditions use pressure cookers, or other similar objects, to house explosives, because it has been found to be effective, and not necessarily because the information diffused directly from one violent group to others. The use of pressure cookers for bombs is much more common than many of us in the US may have thought before this attack.

The truth is that Americans are presently more at-risk from violent radical activities from both domestic and foreign organizations and ideologies, hierarchical networks, decentralized cells, and lone wolves. Recent trends in domestic radicalization have shown a 67% increase in hate based organizations since 2000 (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2013). The Boston attack has been cheered by many throughout the world including the Westboro Baptist Church, a radical Christian group based in Kansas (Nelson, 2013). As some pray for the Boston victims, others pray for more attacks. Where there is pervasive, multi-sourced threat, it can be much more difficult to single out solid suspects.

There are too many uncertainties in the world, too many changes, and not enough adaptation at the front of globalization, the information age, and environmental change. These processes affect people at all geographic scales. The country and the rest of the world are changing very quickly. In some cases, people choose not to follow suit, others don’t have the resources or abilities. This will drive and facilitate conflict and violence in the future.

Most details of what happened on April 15th are still unknown. Media sources are rushing to print details of the attack, though the truth takes time. As we get further from the event, the media will get closer to the truth. And whatever the outcome is, we must prepare for a sustained higher risk of violence for the foreseeable future.

Below we show some tag clouds were generated from all of the tweets received between 2013-04-15 15:00:00 EDT and 2013-04-16 00:00:00 EDT based on specific geographic locations.


Key words originating from the US

boston_terror_wordle_euKey words originating from Europe

boston_terror_wordle_rotwKey words originating from the rest of the World

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