By Jay Holmes
By now, you will have heard about the bombs that detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Before offering opinions concerning that event, I would like to point out an important fact that is easy to miss as the United States and interested foreigners focus on the “who” and the “why” of the tragedy.
I offer my thanks and admiration to the many bystanders that did so much to help the dozens of badly wounded victims. Several victims of the bombing lost limbs and yet did not bleed to death. This was due to the fact that many of those who were not wounded or not severely wounded reacted quickly and calmly.
For someone to survive the loss of a limb in an explosion requires the immediate application of first aid. While trained First Responders were fortunately present at the finish line, they faced the task of dealing with approximately one hundred seventy wounded people. Without the quick calm actions of many bystanders, the death toll would have been much higher than three. For the loved ones of the three victims who died, three no doubt seems like infinitely too many. Our sincere condolences to those families that mourn those losses, along with our humble encouragement to the dozens of badly wounded victims who are fighting to recover some measure of health.
The questions that loom largest in the minds of most Americans are, “Who did this?” and, “Why?” In the days immediately after the bombing, a variety of politicians and “journalists” offered their guesses about who was responsible and what their motives were. Many of those early guessers did little to hide their obvious personal political agendas when voicing their opinions and assumptions about the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Which politicians and journalists spouted the most asinine and annoying nonsense is a topic worthy of an entire article, but let’s leave that for another day.
On April 17, 2013, rumors circulated that the FBI had arrested a Saudi Arabian suspect. The FBI and Boston Police stated that no arrests had been made. Reports of an unscheduled meeting between US President Obama and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal fueled speculation that the White House was doing damage control in response to a supposed connection between Saudi al-Qaeda members and the Boston bombing. However, the White House said that the president had simply joined the meeting, which was already scheduled with other White House staff members and the Saudi Foreign Minister concerning the ongoing civil war in Syria. Thus far, no connection between al-Qaeda and the Boston bombing has been announced by the White House or by US government agencies involved in the investigation.
On April 18, the FBI released photos and videos of two bombing suspects. At about 10:00 p.m. that night, police received a report that one of the bombing suspects had robbed a convenience store. As police headed for the scene of the robbery, 26-year-old policeman Sean Collier of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology responded to a report of a disturbance. He was allegedly murdered when the two bombing suspects attacked him.
The murderers of the MIT policeman are alleged to have subsequently hijacked an SUV and its owner. They forced the owner to withdraw $800 from an ATM, but later allowed him to leave as they continued their seemingly disorganized escape attempt in his SUV.
In the early morning hours of April 19, police located the bombing suspects. The details of the ensuing chase and shootout remain unclear, but the police were able to mortally wound 26-year-old Chechen immigrant Tamerlain Tsarnaev. Unfortunately, his 19-year-old brother and alleged accomplice in the bombing managed to escape the confrontation. Boston was placed in an “emergency lock-down” as the police conducted a manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
During the evening of April 19, a resident of the Boston suburb of Watertown noticed that the tarp covering his boat had been disturbed. He found a bleeding man hiding in the boat and alerted the police. After an hour long police action, the wounded Dzhokhar was taken into custody.
As Boston and the nation rejoiced in the capture of the two bombing suspects, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick reminded the public that “a million questions” remain to be answered. Given the stress of the last week, the governor can be excused for his exaggeration.
From my point of view, the most important questions are as follows. Were there any conspirators to the bombing beyond the two Chechen immigrant brothers? What were the motives of the two bombers and any other conspirators? How forthright will the current administration be in releasing information about any groups that may have conspired with the two bombers?
Some speculate that the two bombers were acting on behalf of the Chechnya Nationalist Movement. This is not altogether impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely. Chechen Islamic jihadis have fought in a number of conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current civil war in Syria. This can be compared to the fact that Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, and Syrian Islamic jihadis have taken part in various armed conflicts outside of their individual homelands. They were, in most cases, not acting as representatives of their home nations.
It seems likely to me that the older Tsarnaev brother would have received training from Chechen Islamic nationalists, as is common for young male Chechens. However, we don’t yet know if any ongoing relationship with any radical group in Chechnya existed, or if such a group had any foreknowledge or involvement in the Boston bombing. In the long struggle between Chechnya and Russia, Chechen nationalists thus far have cautiously avoided acquiring enemies beyond their formidable Russian opponents and their immediate neighbors. It would seem contrary to Chechen nationalist goals to instigate a conflict with the US. For those who are unfamiliar with the recent history of Chechnya and its war with the Soviet Union and now Russia, we will publish a brief outline of the history of Chechnya on Wednesday.
One of the more popular current theories about who else—if anyone—might be behind the Boston bombing is the theory that the two Chechen brothers might be working on behalf of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda clone group. However, al-Qaeda is generally quick to claim credit for any crimes that they may have had a hand in, but, thus far, they have not claimed credit for the Boston bombing. This does not exclude the possibility that they or some less expert Islamic terror group was behind the bombing.
Early theories espoused by some were that “white supremacist” or “right-wing pro-gun radicals” or “tea party supporters” were behind the bombing. Since the apprehension of the two Chechen suspects, these ideas seem even more improbable than they did in the early hours after the attack. Also, although it might support marketing opportunities to excitedly proclaim that the Boston Marathon Bombing somehow represents a new type of threat to the American public, there is as of yet no evidence to suggest that.
Any nation that can remain free enough to avoid devolving into a totalitarian police state is, in its comparatively free state, going to be vulnerable to violent criminal attack. While the Boston bombing represents a new type of horror for the good people of Boston, criminals like the Tsarnaev brothers are not a new development.
While the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers and any other co-conspirators have yet to be clarified, another important question remains unanswered. To what degree, if at all, will the people of Boston, the people of the Massachusetts, and the people of the US respond to the tragedy with a greater willingness to surrender more civil rights in an attempt to gain more security?