15 abril, 2013

Terror in Boston

A reminder of how vulnerable the U.S. homeland still is.

The scenes on Boylston Street Monday—an explosion, then screams and confusion, followed by another blast and more carnage, all captured on camera—were horrifying. And all too familiar.
U.S. officials didn't know as of Monday night who planted the bombs along the finish line of the Boston marathon. At least three people were killed, including an 8-year-old girl. More than 110 were injured, many critically and including many amputations as the force of the blasts swept like a scythe near the ground.
What we do know is that another open Western city has suffered the modern scourge of an attack on innocent civilians. Boston's police commissioner, Ed Davis, wasn't ready on Monday afternoon to label it an act of terror. President Obama didn't use the word "terror" in his brief afternoon remarks, though U.S. officials were at pains later to say that they were treating the bombing as a terrorist attack.
imageAssociated Press
One of the blast sites on Boylston Street.
No matter the perpetrator or the motive, no matter whether the bomber was foreign or domestic, this was and ought to be treated as an act of terrorism. In addition to the two bombs that exploded, investigators told reporters they found other suspicious devices. Several reports said the bombs included ball bearings that can only be intended as deadly shrapnel. The devices were clearly meant to kill or maim as many runners and spectators as possible in Boston, and also to frighten an entire nation.

One particular cause for concern is whether this attack represents a new terror tactic of targeting hard-to-defend public spaces. Since 9/11, the U.S. has hardened its airports and ports. It has also crucially gone on offense, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Yemen and North Africa, keeping foreign terrorists on the run and making it harder to plot attacks on the U.S. homeland.
But they have kept trying, and one mystery is why terrorists haven't targeted the public places of everyday American life such as shopping malls or tourist venues. We got lucky on that score in May 2010 when Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized Pakistani-American, tried and failed to explode a car bomb in Times Square in New York City.
That bomb would have killed hundreds in one of America's most famous public spaces. Shahzad, who was radicalized watching al Qaeda videos on the Internet, was arrested at the airport as he was attempting to fly to Pakistan. He is now serving a life sentence.
The Boston marathon is another symbolically rich target. Every third Monday of April, America's oldest and most prestigious marathon coincides with Patriots Day, which marks the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord and signals the arrival of spring. As Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said on Tuesday, "The marathon is a very special day around here."
Security at major sporting events—which take place every day across America—has also been a constant worry. Stadiums and arenas can at least screen spectators with metal detectors. A marathon like Boston's or New York's is a city-wide celebration with thousands of runners and tens of thousands of people cheering them on. It's what makes them special—and vulnerable. Terrorists who target such events know they are disrupting the comfortable assumptions of a free and democratic society.
The Boston bombing is above all a reminder of the continuing need for heightened defenses against terror threats. As the years since 9/11 without a successful homeland attack increased, the temptation was to forget how vulnerable the U.S. is, and to conclude that the worst is over.
In particular an anti-antiterror media and legal industry has developed in recent years claiming that police tactics like pre-emptive surveillance are no longer necessary. Al Qaeda is all but defeated, they say, so we can relax. But as New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly points out, the NYPD has helped to foil 16 plots against the city. Many of them involved homegrown terrorists like Shahzad, who often won't be detected without surveillance or informants in communities that might produce killers.
Boston shows that the terror threat continues to be real, and that the price of even a peaceful marathon is constant vigilance.

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