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Professors analyze bombings

By Ann Marie Jakubowski | Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The two bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday caused not only chaos, but also an explosion of questions and concerns for United States government officials and civilians.

The explosions killed three people and injured more than 170, according to the Associated Press. President Barack Obama called the bombing “an act of terrorism” Tuesday. 

Law professor Jimmy Gurulé said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates all terrorism cases. He said the FBI, not Boston police or other Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, will lead the subsequent action. 

Gurulé previously served as the Under Secretary for Enforcement during the George W. Bush administration, overseeing the federal law enforcement agencies during the Sept. 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Centers. He coordinated the 2001 response efforts of the United States Secret Service; the Customs Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, among other groups. He now teaches a course on terrorism in Notre Dame’s Law School.

Gurulé said terrorismsis defined as crimes directed against civilians. He said civilians were clearly the target of Monday’s bombing.

 “It appears that the attack was intended to instill fear and terrorize a civilian population,” he said. “The motivation was to cause panic and destabilize the community and, perhaps, to influence government policy or conduct. However, the investigation is in its early stages, and we have to be careful to not rush to judgment.”

No information has been released yet concerning potential suspects or perpetrators, but the FBI has already begun investigating whether the attack is foreign or domestic in origin, according to the Associated Press. 

“A good argument could be made that the perpetrators are home-grown or ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists ¾ born, raised and educated in the United States,” Gurulé said. “Such individuals may have had access to terrorist websites and embraced a terrorist organization’s radical ideology.” 

Gurulé said it was also possible the perpetrators were members of an anti-government militant group, since the date of the attack was the due date for filing federal taxes. 

“However, typically, those types of terrorist groups attack government facilities or installations,” he said. “in Boston, the attack targeted civilians, which are the favorite targets of foreign terrorist organizations.”

Gurulé said the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was an example of anti-government militant attack because it targeted a federal building in Oklahoma City.

 Some of the facts about the Boston case appear similar to bombings and attacks in Iraq, Gurulé said, and the federal investigation will try to determine if and where this type of explosive device has been used in the past.

“The investigators are going to try to determine what kind of explosives, chemicals, wiring and detonation device were used in the explosive device,” he said. “Investigators will try to determine whether there are any similarities between the explosive devices used in this Boston Marathon bombing and other improvised explosive device) [IEDs] used by al Qaeda and related terrorist groups. 

“[They] will try to develop a forensic fingerprint of the bombs detonated in Boston.”The Boston Marathon bombing may represent a new chapter in the ongoing conflict between the United States and al Qaeda. Only time will tell.”

Darren Davis, the University’s associate vice president for research and a political science professor, studies the ways people respond to crises and terrorist events, and the political implications of their responses. He said the nationwide anxiety and fear after such a terrorist attack does not depend on proximity to the event.

“The most important thing to understand about how people respond to terrorism events is that people themselves don’t have to be affected personally by it in order for it to resonate with them and for it to cause a sense of anxiety,” Davis said. 

Because the government is treating the bombings as a terrorist attack, Davis said they will be able to overstep certain civil liberties in response to the threat. These liberties are enumerated in the Patriot Act, passed in Octr 2001 in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2011. 

“Under the Patriot Act, [the government] can actually do many things that they couldn’t do if this were just labeled a crime,” he said. “Basically, there’s the ability to detain people under suspicion, implement certain surveillance techniques and obtain searches without warrant.”

Davis said the sheer volume of media coverage of the attack, such as video footage of the explosions, will contribute to increased anxiety and “sensitizing people to their vulnerabilities.”

“It’s been 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, and we’ve had an entire generation of people who have grown up and matured since that point, in relatively quiescent times,” he said. “However, the media [coverage] will no doubt have an effect on a lot of people, and it’s going to raise the level of concern about terrorism.”

Davie said American society is “very vulnerable” to terrorist attacks partly because of the freedoms its citizens enjoy, and both domestic and international terrorists can sometimes use these freedoms and liberties against the nation.

“In America, [terrorists] can walk around undetected because this is not a society where we’re profiling everyone,” he said. “There was a sense of freedom at the Boston Marathon. You could walk around freely without having to show identification. I’m not complaining that we’re too open, … but our openness is often used against us.”

“The question always is about how you balance people’s rights and liberties and openness, versus what the government has to do to provide for your security.” 

Gurulé said the implications of the Boston Marathon bombing are “ominous,” and this incident could affect the future of terrorism. 

“Perhaps, the United States is a victim of its own success against al Qaeda,” he said. “Because the government has made it more difficult for al Qaeda to execute terrorist attacks on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks, the terrorist organization will focus on inspiring ‘lone wolf’ terrorists to implement smaller-scale, less sophisticated attacks involving IEDs.”

“Perhaps the terrorist tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan have reached the homeland,” Gurulé said. “If so, such terrorist attacks will be almost impossible to prevent in the future.”

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at ajakubo1@nd.edu