The Boston bombing

reddit-boston-bomberThe Boston Marathon bombing is a rather peculiar act of terrorism. It seems likely, from the little we know about the suspects, that the motive was political. Bombing is, of course, a favorite tactic of killers with a political motive. Spree killers more typically use guns and serial killers knives, hammers or – in the case of Boston’s most famous example – strangulation. Presumably, killing from a distance does not satisfy whatever psychological disorder drives people to kill for pleasure.

Bombing can be an effective tactic for terrorism because individuals find it hard to defend themselves. Carrying a gun or practicing self-defense, which might make you safer from a serial killer, will be of little or no use in a bombing situation. The purpose of terrorism is, after all, to terrorize. In that, the Boston perpetrators seem to have been successful, with the entire city being put on lock-down for a while. When targets are chosen more or less at random – as was presumably the case in Boston – the terror is widespread. But there is still something missing from the terrorist equation.

Let us imagine that the terror reached such a level – or the cowardice of the political authorities reached such a level – that a decision was made to accede to the terrorists’ demands. How could the president and the governor do that? It wouldn’t actually be possible, because we have no idea what their political agenda actually is.

Sometimes it is implicit in the choice of targets. The Weather Underground, the group Bill Ayers founded, targeted banks, the Capitol, and police stations. In their twisted ideology these were all targets implicated in the conspiracy they imagined they were fighting. The Oklahoma City bombing was of a federal building. These people fantasized that they were conducting a war. When random civilians are targeted – presumably in the hope of putting pressure on political leaders indirectly – terrorists claim responsibility and publish their demands. For the Unabomber, publishing his manifesto was his demand. In its 30-year bombing campaign in the UK, the IRA always claimed responsibility for its attacks, sometimes beforehand by way of a warning and sometimes afterwards. But they always wanted people to know they were responsible in order that their actions could contribute to the political goal.

Al Qaeda chooses both paths. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not random targets: they chosen for both symbolic and practical reasons. And the group would usually leak a video to the media afterwards presenting its demands.

The agenda of the Boston bombers may become clear. Perhaps it is related their native Chechnya or perhaps it is standard Islamist ideology. Perhaps their intention was to carry out several attacks and only then – when the terror had reached an appropriate level – make their demands. But that is odd, too, as they don’t seem to have had an escape plan.

Chechens have much about which they can legitimately complain. Their present leader is a monster – a former Chechen nationalist who made a deal with the Russians and now rules with their support. The two Chechen wars have been devastating and the west has largely ignored their plight. Ignoring it was wise policy, as military intervention would mean war with Russia. It is difficult to see how anyone imagined that bombing Boston would help Chechnya. 


Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at


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