Big athletic events are a perfect venue for terrorists. The world is already watching. The journalists are already there, microphones ready. That’s why, in 1972, Palestinian terrorists targeted Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich. That’s why in 1996, an antiabortion crusader set off a pipe bomb at the Atlanta Olympics. And in 2002, Basque separatists targeted a semifinals soccer match in Spain.
Nonetheless, yesterday’s attack on the Boston Marathon had a surreal feeling. It was odd to get texts from Afghanistan and Kenya, asking if I was OK in Boston. It reminded me of the aftermath of the first terrorist attack I ever covered: the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi. Three years before Sept. 11 — before most Americans had ever heard of Osama bin Laden — I ran down the middle of what was supposed to be one of Nairobi’s busiest streets. I remember the stillness of it. The silence. The charred-out bus. My mentor, Ray Bonner, an investigative reporter at The New York Times, put his hands up to say “slow down.” Cops with machine guns were everywhere. Sudden movements made them nervous.