Volume II, Number 3

Eurasia Analyst

A publication of independent researchers

Volume II, Number 3                                                                                                             24 April 2013

 

In this issue:

From: Boston, To: Sochi.

Lessons from the Marathon Bombing

By Susan J. Cavan

On Monday April 15, two ethnic Chechen brothers, refugees who immigrated legally to the US, allegedly placed bombs laced with ball bearings and nails in the midst of spectators at the Boston Marathon.  The bombs exploded within seconds of each other and killed three unsuspecting innocents, injuring more than 200 persons.  Boston police, event volunteers, bystanders, and media rushed toward the sites of the explosions, even as many others fled in panic.  “Hey, there’s got to be people hurt,” someone called out. (1)  The medical tents, prepared for exhausted, dehydrated, and strained runners emptied as medical personnel rushed to assist the victims.  The tents soon filled again with wounded, as ambulances struggled to transport the injured to local hospitals.

These two young émigrés, Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, went back to their lives after dropping off their packages.  The younger brother returned to his college campus and tweeted seemingly about the Marathon:  “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people.”  (2)  Whether or not they later set about building more bombs or kept a stockpile in the older brother’s Cambridge apartment, it seems clear that they had plans for more destruction and death.

By Thursday, law enforcement officials released photos and video of the suspected Marathon bombers, and many of their friends and acquaintances saw the images.  Some hesitated over the resemblance; some shook off concerns.  There was no longer a familiar beard; the baby face seemed much older.   Some recognized them.  In any event, the release of the images seemed to spook the brothers.

On Thursday night, encountering a young MIT campus police officer, Sean Collier, in his cruiser, they opened fire and killed him.  After the horror of the bombing it may seem strange to hesitate here and ask about their motive, but this seems a turning point:  Why didn’t they just run?  Why kill this officer?  Perhaps some day, speaking from his hospital bed or a cell, Dzhokhar will explain.

After shooting Officer Collier, the Tsarnaev brothers forced a driver at gunpoint over into the passenger seat and commandeered his vehicle.  “Did you hear about the Boston explosion,” one of the brothers asked their victim.  “I did that.” (3)  The carjack victim managed to run when his assailants stopped for gas.

As a manhunt mounted for the killers of Officer Collier, the bombing suspects eventually were spotted driving in Watertown.  MBTA Officer Richard Donohue was close to the relayed coordinates.  Officer Collier had been a friend.  Joined by many other law enforcement personnel, Officer Donohue was involved in a shootout with the Tsarnaev’s that claimed the life of the older brother, Tamarlan, and very nearly ended Officer Donohue’s life as well.  Shot through his femoral artery, the officer needed prolonged resuscitation on scene and en route to the hospital.  He survived. (4)

Two hundred spent rounds and several improvised explosive devices were later found at the scene of the shootout.  The older brother, Tamarlan Tsarnaev was wounded fatally.  According to some reports, younger brother Dzhokhar drove over the prone body of his brother as he made his escape.  After a short flight, Dzhokhar crashed the vehicle and fled the scene.

After an unprecedented manhunt and lockdown of the city of Boston and surrounding areas, Dzhokhar eventually was located in the trailered boat of a Watertown resident, whose home was just beyond the perimeter of the police search.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested by an MBTA SWAT team, brother officers to the critically injured Officer Donohue.  Dzhokhar was transported to hospital and has been communicating with law enforcement officials.

Throughout the aftermath of the bombing and the long, tense day’s search for the wounded bomber, the issue of motive became central to the rampant speculation surrounding reports of the attack.  Reporters eventually sought friends, relatives, and acquaintances of the bombers to flush out character details and connections that might possibly explain the bombing.  Even reports filtering out from the wounded bomber’s hospital room focused on questions of intent.  Concerns about an al Qaeda connection have faded as leaks suggest the two bombers “self-radicalized” over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (5)

Whatever the Tsarnaev’s intentions, their attack on the Marathon and subsequent fading back into the community (until the release of their pictures three days later) provides a lesson for organizers of the Olympics in Sochi.

Sochi is located roughly 500 miles from Chechnya, the Tsarnaev’s ancestral home.  Chechnya is but one of several Russian regions where militant Islam, independence movements, and revanchist groups “assist” in the radicalization of young fighters.  Russia has a long, contentious history of relations with the many peoples of the Caucasus region and are well aware of the potential security implications for the Olympic games.  There is no doubt that Russia’s various security, intelligence, and police organizations have done extensive planning for the Olympics at Sochi.  Certainly, there have been times when it was not lack of planning but the “enthusiasm” of security measures taken by Russia’s forces that stirred debate over the possibility of civil rights abuses.  Nevertheless, perhaps on this occasion Boston can offer some constructive advice, culled from the videos of the Marathon bombings.

Observe the responses of the security personnel, volunteers, and spectators as the explosions occur, and craft a response that protects first responders from secondary explosions.  Protect the medical stations and their personnel.  Clear ambulance routes.  In a very dark hour, Boston was brightened by the actions of heroes, who heeded the impulse to help the wounded, the stunned, and the stranded.  Don’t let the next terror plotter see the instincts of the best of us as a means to inflict greater terror.

By Susan J. Cavan

sjcavan@bu.edu

The One Fund Boston   Please consider a donation to help the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing:  https://secure.onefundboston.org/page/-/donate1.html

Notes:

1) “First Boston marathon explosion caught on tape,” 15 April 2013 3:13 PM. Video courtesy of Steve Silva of Boston.com via http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50144906n.

2) “This Is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Actual Twitter Account,” via http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/this-might-be-djohar-tsarnaevs-actual-twitter-account.

3) “Boston Marathon Bombings Update: Suspect told carjacking victim he did it, Justice Dept. says,” 22 April 2013, CBS News via http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57580776-504083/boston-marathon-bombings-update-suspect-told-carjacking-victim-he-did-it-justice-dept-says.

4) “Wounded transit officer’s heart stopped; he remains critical after shootout with bomb suspects,” Associated Press, Washington Post, 21 April 2013 via http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/wounded-transit-officers-heart-stopped-he-remains-critical-after-shootout-with-bomb-suspects/2013/04/21/8e702ab4-aabb-11e2-9493-2ff3bf26c4b4_story.html

5) “Boston bombing suspect cites U.S. wars as motivation, officials say,” By Scott Wilson, Greg Miller and Sari Horwitz, Washington Post via  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/boston-bombing-suspect-cites-us-wars-as-motivation-officials-say/2013/04/23/324b9cea-ac29-11e2-b6fd-ba6f5f26d70e_story.html – license-324b9cea-ac29-11e2-b6fd-ba6f5f26d70eUpdated: Tuesday, April 23, 5:22 PM.

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