The 117th Boston Marathon was drawing to an end as Boston celebrated Patriot Day. The winners had finished their races about two before and those men and women still on the course were those doing this for the simple fact of conquering a marathon, a famous marathon at that. At about 2:45 PM a large explosion went off near the finish line followed shortly by a second. Initial reports claimed dozens injured, some seriously and several deaths.
When I first heard about the attacks I was waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Norfolk. My mind flashed back to 9-11-2011 and for a few minutes I wondered if something might also be going on with attacks on aircraft. I was glad to arrive home safely and as I heard the updated reports about the attack and was stunned. As I saw the video of the attacks I felt emotions that I had not felt since 9-11-2001. As I saw those images for the first time when we stopped for dinner felt tears come to my eyes.
We now know that 3 people were killed and around at least 113 wounded in today’s attack. It is the biggest terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11. Certainly it is not the most deadly in recent years, the mass murders at Virginia Tech, Aurora Colorado and Newtown Massachusetts took more lives but were not the result of a terrorist attack and each of those attacks were committed by lone gunmen with reported psychiatric problems.
In the initial reports there was no indication of what had caused the explosions but all eyes focused on terrorism. Police are now reporting that small Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were used in the attack. Other reports state that police may have defused a number of other devices. Those reports are still unconfirmed.
No group has yet claimed responsibility but there are some reports that a “person of interest” has been taken into custody. Of course speculation runs rampant as to who or what group might have orchestrated this attack. My guest is some Islamic extremist group but I could also see a domestic terrorist group, possibly of the neo-Nazi type being behind the attack because of how international the event is in regard to the actual racers. Of course some conspiracy theory types, notably Alex Jones of the Prison Planet website believes it is an event orchestrated by the government. I think that Jones’ theory is the least credible. I believe that if the attackers are of an Islamic group that they will make a public announcement sooner rather than later, a domestic terror group will more than likely try to remain under the radar.
The possibility of a terrorist group attacking a sporting venue has long been on my mind. I have wondered why international or domestic terrorist groups have not attacked such venues simply because they are relatively soft targets where large numbers of people congregate. Attacks on aircraft, transportation and government buildings have been done but I think that many people almost assume that possibility now. What most people do not anticipate are attacks on sporting, entertainment, retail businesses like malls, educational facilities or even places of worship.
Ever since the 9-11-2001 attacks I have feared that terrorists, foreign and domestic would adjust their tactics to hit a major sporting event, but I did not believe that it would be a marathon, I expected a college or high school football game in the heartland of the country, far away from where most people expect terrorists to strike. A place that would show how vulnerable such events are and bring terror to people that have only known it through what they have seen on the news.
Such attacks if they do become the new normal for terrorist tactics could strike unimaginable fear across the country because these places a supposed to be safe. They are places where we can reasonably expect to take our families for enjoyment and recreation. One only has to remember the Washington DC Beltway sniper rampage in 2002 to see the kind of fear that such attacks provoked and how disruptive they were. Those attacks took place over a period of 23 days and sent an entire region into a state of shock and terror. In the 1980s while stationed in Germany we lived with the constant threat of terrorism conducted by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction and State sponsored Islamic terrorists from Libya. On more than one occasion we just missed being at the sites of bombings at the Frankfurt PX and Airport in 1985.
Red Army Faction Bombings in Germany
As we learn more about who or what group conducted this attack, the types of explosive devices used and the motivation and rational given for the attack we will be able to respond. Terrorists make their living by terrorizing people, breaking routine and destroying the feeling of security of those that they target. Even small attacks can disrupt open societies. Such attacks do not have to use explosives. Since weapons, including weapons that are military grade assault weapons are readily available a group willing do die for their cause could launch commando type attacks on public places where police and security officers, or even armed citizens would be badly outgunned until SWAT type units arrived. The attacks of Pakistani Taliban militants on an Indian Hotel in Mumbai a few years ago are indicative of the carnage that such attacks can inflict before the attackers are killed or captured.
It is quite possible that this could be the new normal for how terrorists attack the United States. If so we will have to learn how to best provide security without becoming a police state. I would hope that it is not, but I would not be surprised if it is. If it is the beginning of a new wave of terror we have to be ready.
I do hope that this is an isolated incident and that the perpetrators are found and swiftly brought to justice. Likewise I pray for the victims of this attack and their families and friends, people whose lives will not be the same after today. That being said it is very possible that these attacks are the opening salvo in a terror campaign that we have not experience before in the United States, but which has been common in Europe and the Middle East over the past 40 years.
Sometimes an event like this reminds me of just how isolated we are to this kind of terror. In Iraq today several dozen people were killed and close to 150 others wounded in terrorist attacks. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Irish Republican Army terrorized Britain, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhoff Gang did the same in German. I remember the terror of the Baader Meinhoff Gang when I was stationed in Germany including just missing being at the site of a terrorist bombing. In the Moslem world there are varying reactions. The leader of a Jordanian terror group expressed no remorse while there’s prayed that the culprit would not be a Moslem.
Pray and prepare because we do not know what will come next. President Obama has promised that the guilty will face justice. That being said, I do believe that the perpetrators will be found and brought to justice. Even so I wonder if there are others that will continue this kind of terror attack now that they know that it can be done.