The Boston Marathon Bombing: Some Thoughts

It’s about seven thirty in the morning, the day after two bombs exploded in the finish area of the Boston Marathon. So far three people are dead and some one hundred fifty injured.

I think this was interesting but not surprising. It was inevitable, if not at Boston then someplace else. Our culture breathes violence, encouraged by right wing politicians, fundamentalist preachers, and psychopaths of all stripes in various political subgroups, including the love-the-fetus-screw-the-child groups. We are a society of hatred and mental illness.

What is more interesting to me than the event itself is the question of who the bomber is, and why he did this.

The Weapon:

Bombs. Two of them, about a hundred yards apart, on sidewalks filled with people. The bomber planted them on the same side of the street. They weren’t there during the morning inspection by bomb sniffing dogs: either the dogs missed them, or the materials were not materials the dogs had been trained on, or the bomber planted them later during the race itself. They were, as far as I can gather now, placed on the sidewalk, ground level. There have been suggestions they were placed in trash cans, but that’s not been verified yet.

The bombs were powerful. People’s lower legs were blown away.

The bombs exploded about ten seconds apart, first the one right near the finish line, and the second about a hundred yards before the finish.

These facts suggest the following:

Choice of weapon. Anonymous. Safe, for him. If he used a cellphone to detonate them he did not have to be in the area when they exploded. The ten second gap could be explained by separate cellphone triggers: as soon as the first bomb exploded he dialed a number to trigger the second. Or it could have been that he had clock triggers that were not quite synchronized.

Placement of the weapons. As noted, he placed them where they would do maximum damage to anonymous civilians. He also placed them about a hundred yards apart and triggered them sequentially. If the sequence was intentional he might have been intending to catch people fleeing the first explosion. The placement suggests that he knew the capability of the bombs to wreak damage from where he placed them, and that he was very confident of his ability to place the weapons without being caught. Placing them at or near the finishing line grandstands suggests high levels of confidence and skill at stealth.

Unexploded weapons. Early reports from the police say that two more bombs were found, apparently in the area of the viewing stands at the finish line. These did not explode and were disposed of by the police, at least one by exploding it, according to the information the news channels are disseminating. If true, that makes four weapons. If they were also cellphone bombs, why didn’t they explode? The police say they shut down cellphone service almost immediately, which would have disabled the bombs, and also that would indicate that the bomber had not built in a backup system. It is also possible that the bombs were faulty, or that the bomber felt some remorse, or that the bomber was actually injured or killed in one of the two explosions, which might tend to eliminate cellphone triggers.

The explosives. At this point we don’t know what sort of explosive the bomber used. We do know that it was powerful, as it was contained in a small package, now suspected to be a backpack. But the fact that it was powerful suggests that the bomber is intelligent enough to either obtain powerful explosives or to manufacture the material, and that he was skilled in working with the material. Further, if he did not manufacture the explosive, he would have to have either stolen it or purchased it from a reliable source of illegal explosives. Stealing it suggests again a high level of confidence and skill at stealth. Purchasing it suggests a knowledge of criminal activity and criminal sources, as well as sufficient confidence in that knowledge that would allow him to deal with criminals without worrying about the danger of the sources implicating him in the bombings. Criminals would likely come forward with information once they realized the material they sold had been used at the Marathon. They would be better off telling what they knew rather than take the chance the bomber would implicate them in a horrendous crime that might well get them executed or imprisoned under a terrorism warrant.

Generally, the choice and use of the weapons suggests an intelligent person, someone who can plan carefully, someone with knowledge of explosives and bombmaking, someone confident enough to manufacture, plant, and explode the weapons with little fear of being caught.

These attributes suggest someone with either military training, possibly a veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, or someone who meticulously sought out information on how to make and place bombs. In either case he is confident and skilled. If he sought the information from public sources, he would have been careful, having formed his intent, to not use one source, say, the Internet or one particular library. He would deliberately have sought his information from a number of sources in order to evade leaving an easy trail.

The Victims:

1. The bomber chose anonymous citizens as victims.

2. The bomber did not choose a government facility, a military facility, an abortion clinic, or a corporate facility.

3. The bomber chose a popular public event which draws worldwide interest.

4. The bomber did not choose an event or a venue with any political significance.

5. The bomber apparently attended the event while it was in full swing in order to leave his weapons on the sidewalks and in the area of the grandstand. He walked among his victims before killing them.

6. The bomber has not at this point released any statement about his intent or purpose which would indicate why he chose to kill anonymous people.

7. Why did he plant bombs in the grandstands? He must have known that when the first two went off that area would be cleared and that there would not be any ceremonies to disrupt. Another possibility is that he intended to blow the grandstand first, and as the people fled from there he would blow the next bomb (the actual first explosion) as people ran that way. If so, the grandstand bombs failed for some reason. Or if he intended to blow the stands last, perhaps to catch a bunch of officials or first responders, he may have been stymied by the police-ordered cellphone shutdown. Or the bombs could simply have been faulty.

The Timing:

1. April 15 is the deadline for state and federal income tax payments.

2. April 19 is important to right-wing militias.

3. April 15 is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts, again important to right wing militias and the like.

4. The dates may well have been simply coincidental and not important. The bomber may have considered that the public, international nature of the event, and its sheer size were the significant points of interest for his purpose.

5. The explosions occurred when, according to news sources, the sidewalks at the finish area would be crowded. If the bomber was familiar with the Marathon in past years, he would likely know this, and choose that time for a maximum kill. This would also have been well past the time when the elite runners from around the world would have gone from the area. The bomber could well have achieved an even greater effect if he had blown his bombs when the groups of elite runners were finishing. Why did he wait until later? The sidewalks would have been more crowded at that time. Possibly he might have been thinking that with a denser crowd the bombs would actually do less damage, as those closest would have suffered the most damage but would also have shielded those people farther away. If that’s so, then that might indicate that the bomber is extremely thoughtful and meticulous in his planning. If not so, he may have considered it more convenient to plant the weapons at a later time when he might find it easier to leave the area due to the lower density of people.

I’ve put these thoughts together based on what the news media have put out so far. I don’t know that everything they’ve said is accurate, as it is still early in the investigation. My suspicion is that the bomber is intelligent, careful, thoughtful, and meticulous; that he is skilled at handling explosives; that he may be former military, possibly a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan; that he is confident; that he is skilled at stealth; that this is his first bombing; that his politics lean towards the extreme right-wing; that he may have a tangential connection with right-wing militias or other organizations. That there has been no statement of purpose coming from him suggests that this may be personal: that is, he’s in it for the thrill, for the sense of personal power.

This is, of course, speculation. I simply found myself asking why a person would do this, and what kind of person might do this, and I wanted to ask and examine these questions without burdening them with the emotional cloud surrounding the events. As I said earlier, I don’t find the bombing either surprising or shocking, but merely inevitable. Vile and ugly, but inevitable.


Late news via TPM: Apparently there were no other bombs besides the two that exploded.

2 Responses

  1. Okay, I was wrong. As I noted on Facebook I shall now retire to a monastic cell in the Carpathians and subsist on bread crumbs and water as penance. Damn!


  2. Brilliantly funny and much credence for not taking it down in embarrassment.


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