Dangerous Minds

Understanding the motives and methods of terrorists.

The Significance of the April 15th Attacks

Terror at the Boston Marathon and our quest for understanding motives

April 15th 2013 has taken on a new, and profound significance.  In Boston, Marathon Monday has always been a festive occasion where people come together to celebrate.  I spent my college years in Boston attending Boston College, and always had a special place in my heart for the marathon and

what it represented.  Today was different, as several bombs were detonated close to the finish line, disrupting and shattering lives.  Now it also is known as the worst attack in the US since 9/11/2001, in terms of the rates of casualties.

As someone who studies terrorism, I’ve spent many long days and nights thinking about these kinds of attacks - targeting civilians in places that are supposed to be safe, and attacks that are designed to generate lots of media attention.  Attacks that are intended to maim and kill as many people as possible, by going after ‘soft’ targets.

The timing, location, and coordination of the multiple bombs certainly suggests that a significant level of forethought went into these attacks.  The fact that several of the bombs were successfully detonated suggests that whatever the motivations of the attacker(s) were, that they also had a sufficient level of skill to pull this off.   It’s still too early to say what kind of individual or group would

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have done this. Of course, in order to establish motivations (which is an important aspect of defining an act of violence like we saw today as terrorism), we need to know who the perpetrators were.  Though, to me it was a striking coincidence that these attacks targeted an event with such rich symbolic value, with such a huge audience. 

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There are a number of key dates and events that might potentially have some significance here:

1.)  the 15th of April marked the celebration of Patriot’s Day this year

2.)  It is also ‘Tax Day’

3.)  The date is close to the April 19th, 1995 anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168

4.)  The date is close to the April 19th, 1993 anniversary of the raid on the compound of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas

5.)  The date is close to the anniversary of the 1985 Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord siege in 1985, one of the earliest confrontations between a domestic group and law enforcement

6.)  It’s also close to the April 20th birthday of Adolf Hitler, which has significance among White Supremacists of many types

7.)  School shootings at Columbine (April 20th, 1999) and Virginia Tech (April 17th, 2007)

Of course, it is far too early to link any of these events to the tragic attacks in Boston.  In fact, this might be a totally unfortunate coincidence with no underlying meaning at all.  But this is precisely the kind of thing that I think about, alot.  I also think about how readily available instructions to make bombs are on the internet, in a wide variety of contexts.  This is evidenced in many ways, and some of my previous writing on the English language publication of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “Inspire” has highlighted this.  But at this point, we simply don’t know. Sometimes we want to try to jump to conclusions, to better understand what has happened and to attribute blame.  Through good investigative and forensic work, pieces of this puzzle will be assembled in ways that allow us to identify the perpetrators, and possibly to get a much deeper look into their motivations.

But today, I think we can use this as an opportunity to re-affirm our absolute rejection of terrorism, in its many forms.  We can focus on those who ran toward the sound of the explosions, to try to help in whatever way they could.  We can work harder to remain resilient, to be compassionate toward victims of violence and terrorism – those in Boston, as well as others, wherever they are in the world. 

 

Anthony Lemieux, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University. 

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