Terror in Boston


The detonation of two bombs near the finishing line of the Boston marathon on Monday can only be viewed as an act of terrorism. The intention was to kill and injure as many as possible and to create fear and uncertainty in the public mind. The identity of the person or persons involved and their possible motivations are still under investigation by the police and intelligence services. But the absence of a claim of responsibility and the crude nature of the bombs, made from gunpowder and ball bearings, cast doubt on the idea of al-Qaeda involvement.

President Barack Obama responded in a measured fashion as reports of the bombing reached the White House. He asked people to stay calm and not to jump to conclusions as to who might have been involved while the security forces did their work. Responsible groups or individuals would, he declared, feel the full weight of justice. In the absence of hard intelligence, it was all he could offer. In the coming days, however, his administration will come under immense pressure not only to identify the culprits but to explain the failure of the FBI and homeland security to prevent this murderous assault .

The US is, unfortunately, no stranger to atrocities. The al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorist attacks of September 2001 still scar the public psyche. But disturbed individuals and extremist groups have also engaged in a catalogue of massacres at schools and public places. It has led to intense pressure for the introduction of stricter gun controls.

The death toll arising from this attack on innocent civilians was, in historic terms, mercifully small. But its public impact, because of the popularity of the event and the presence of so many television cameras and reporters, was enormous. Three people died, including an eight-year-old boy and 17 out of an estimated 170 who were injured are said to be in a critical condition. It could have been worse. But the presence of medical teams at the finishing line provided early and life-saving care for many of those who required it.

Boston has historic associations and contains a large Irish population. Groups of runners from this country travelled there to participate in what is the oldest marathon outside of Greece. Some individuals were fundraising for charity. Others were doing it simply for the love of running. For the estimated half-a-million onlookers along the route, it was a celebration of Patriots’ Day and a carefree family occasion that became a scene of bloody destruction.

Terrorists succeed when society is cowed by their violence. That is why the London marathon should go ahead next Sunday, as planned. Increased security will be required on all fronts. The dark forces behind these Boston murders should not dictate events.