The Boston Marathon is a high-profile event with a global feel. It is no surprise it would be attractive to a terrorist with an agenda, or no agenda at all. The world was watching, and someone wanted to put on a terrifying show. That President Obama did not say the word “terror” or “terrorism” in his initial statement is of little import. It happened: A name is just a name.
I happened to be just a few miles away when the explosions occurred, preparing to teach a class with the top leadership from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They had just left the Marathon, but then, of course, we all turned around after hearing the news. Only an hour after the explosions, the scene was calm beyond any expectations. Runners were walking away from the finish line, which was now a crime scene. The police smartly pushed all the spectators out of the area, further and further from the focal point, in a controlled evacuation. The medical tent, usually reserved for those who were in pain from running, was quickly being turned into a place to help those who were injured by explosions.
The speed of evacuation, and the intensity of the response, were the products of months of planning for the Marathon. Public-safety officials were on high alert because any event with lots of people around is sure to have safety issues. But no marathon can ever be totally secure. The length of the event is just too long. Thousands of people working safety and security cannot stop one person or a few people from working their way toward the crowded finish line. There are too many runners, too many spectators, and too much activity to make it truly secure. This is a consequence of what makes a marathon so appealing: It is a spectator event with no doors.
Until definitive information emerges, it’s pointless to speculate on who did or didn’t do this. The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on men dressed in “Arab garb.” The thirst for a quick and easy explanation leads everyone astray. Foreign terrorists are much less organized than they used to be, so the apparent lack of sophistication of the incendiary devices doesn’t necessarily point to a domestic attacker. But the explosions happened during a particularly local celebration, suggesting a fair amount of preplanning, and the devices were targeted at areas with high volumes of people.
The same things that made Boylston Street an attractive terrorist target will make it difficult for the perpetrator or perpetrators to escape unseen. Since the event is practically made for photographs and video, there is little doubt that people who were there may have evidence in their cameras and iPhones that they should review immediately.
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