The Afghan insurgents have been warning Al Qaeda against attacking the West, and now fear the Boston bombings will hurt their cause. Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau exclusively talk to the group’s leaders.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, there was no celebrating among the Afghan Taliban leadership when they heard the news of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings. On the contrary, senior Taliban officials say such attacks on the West are counterproductive and they fear that such actions can only hurt the Taliban’s efforts at shedding its image in the West that it is a terrorist organization that shelters Al Qaeda and condones Al Qaeda-inspired attacks. “You won’t find any link with Afghanistan to the Boston attack,” a former senior cabinet minister in the Taliban tells The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “The Taliban neither has the inclination nor the capacity for such an attack on the West.”
Taliban fighters crouch behind a mud hut as they watch shells landing near their position some 30 kms north of Kabul Sunday, October 20, 1996. (Santiago Lyon/AP)
The former minister, who declines to be named for security reasons, says he is afraid the Taliban will be tarred as terrorists once again even though the Afghan insurgency was not involved in the Boston bombings. “Such attacks only feed anti-Muslim and anti-Islam arguments in the West,” the former minister says, “even though some Muslims may say it’s good that the U.S. is now feeling some of the pain that Muslims feel.” “This incident is clearly not going to help the Taliban or the Islamist movement worldwide,” he adds.
The Afghan Taliban leadership, which is in contact with Al Qaeda on the ground in Pakistan, has been worried about an Al Qaeda-inspired attack on the West, presumably like the one in Boston, for weeks, says a senior Taliban intelligence officer who declines to be named. He says the insurgency’s strategic planning committee told him a month ago that it feared a 9/11-type attack by Al Qaeda could “ruin” the insurgency’s future strategy and further tarnish the Taliban’s image. “We lost Afghanistan in 2001 because of 9/11 at a time when we almost controlled 100 percent of Afghanistan,” the intelligence officer says. “We don’t want these incidents to upset our plans again.”
Boston may have caught a break in the marathon bombing. But even before, the online community Reddit had a list of suspects. Winston Ross on the hazards of crowdsourced detective work.
Was it the man in the blue robe? The blue-jacket “Backpack Bros”? The black-jacket “Backpack Bros”? “Mr. Cardigan?” “Bending Over Guy + Buddy?”
Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston on April 15, 2013. (Charles Krupa/AP)
These are among the flurry of questions now under consideration at the social networking sites Reddit and 4Chan, which are hosting a fascinating and slightly dangerous crowdsourcing investigation of Monday’s Boston bombings. The sub-Reddit “Findbostonbombers” is awash in debate, speculation, clues, circled pictures, arrows pointing from one guy to the next, and the repeated identification of people who may wind up being innocent, albeit even if none of the photographs are labeled with real names.
One of the more popular threads discusses “Blue Robe Guy,” comparing images of a man with a beard “clenching” a black backpack with white (or silver) stripes on the shoulder straps. He has the straps draped over one arm, as opposed to wearing it on his shoulders, which is making Reddit users suspicious.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks the Westboro Baptist Church took to twitter to spew hate and threatened to picket victims’ funerals. Former member Lauren Drain, author of Banished, advocates finding peace in the face of their first amendment right to spread vitriol.
I am a 27-year-old woman. I am a daughter and a sister. I am a nurse. I am a competitive athlete, a runner. I am an American. I am a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. I used to spew hate. I was the ultimate bully.
Mourners gather on the edge of the pond in the Boston Public Gardens for a candlelight vigil April 16, 2013 in Boston; Westboro Baptist Church members displaying signs while protesting a military funeral in Iowa, April 18, 2006. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty, Charlie Neibergall/AP)
When I learned about the senseless social media campaign that Westboro members began on Monday with messages like, “God Sent the Bombs,” I decided I couldn’t remain silent. The church feeds off publicity, so it feels dangerous to discuss them at all, but I think it’s important to stand up to them rather than remain silent, to speak out against their hate as silence does not deliver justice.
As I drove to work a night shift on Monday, I listened closely to the gruesome retelling of the events of that day in Boston, a city I visited with my fiancé a few weekends ago. I found myself welling up with tears and feeling hot and my heart raced. I had a visceral reaction as I’m sure many people have had. I put myself in the shoes of the runners ready to celebrate their amazing accomplishments, the spectators, the proud mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who had gathered in the heart of Boston, and I felt compassion and empathy.
Boston authorities may have identified a suspect linked to Monday's marathon bombings—but the suspect is not in custody, contrary to prior reports. Check here for live breaking updates.
As U.S. investigators search for clues in the Boston bombing, some Muslims worry about the culprit’s identity. Mike Giglio talks to Muslims in America and abroad who are following closely as the drama unfolds.
It was evening in Cairo when news of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing broke—a time when many Egyptians tune into TV talk shows. One popular program, Cairo Today, hosted by the famed presenter Amr Adeeb, often takes call-ins on the news of the day from Egyptians both at home and abroad. In the bombing’s aftermath, Adeeb began fielding calls from Egyptians in America who were reeling from the tragedy. The callers expressed horror and sympathy over the attacks—but also fear about what might happen if it turned out that a Muslim was to blame.
People react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, on April 15, 2013. (Kenshin Okubo/The Daily Free Press, via AP)
Watching Adeeb’s show at home in Cairo, the popular blogger Zeinobia, like many in Egypt, was battling similar concerns. Her first thoughts went to the victims, as she posted words of sadness alongside news of the blasts on her widely followed Twitter feed. But in the back of her mind, Zeinobia says, she also worried who the culprit might be. “I’m praying that he’s not a Muslim,” she says. “I just don’t want my religion being implicated any more in things like this, you know?”
Memories of the fallout from the 9/11 attacks, Zeinobia says, were suddenly fresh on her mind—like Adeeb’s callers, she was concerned about things like the potential for backlash against friends and family living in America, and the idea that some people would believe that Islam itself was to blame. “The implications of having a Muslim involved in this bombing could be very bad,” she says.
The Boston Marathon explosions have stolen momentum from the drive for new laws on immigration and gun control, which were set to take center stage this week. Patricia Murphy assesses the fallout.
Republican Pat Toomey originally went to the Senate floor on Monday to talk up the compromise on background checks for gun buyers that he had struck with Democrat Joe Manchin.
A rally supporter raises an American flag in support of the immigration reform rally on Capitol Hill on April 10, 2013. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)
But Toomey had to begin his remarks instead with the breaking news out of Boston.
“It appears that tragedy has struck at the Boston Marathon and bombs have gone off,” the Pennsylvania senator said. He asked for prayers for the victims before moving on to make the case for his amendment to the pending gun control legislation.
Unless we take specific steps, America is more vulnerable than it needs to be to frequent small-scale bombings. Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings expert on terrorism, offers some suggestions.
Roughly a decade ago, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller predicted that the United States would soon face the kinds of frequent small-scale bombings perpetrated frequently abroad by Hamas and Hezbollah. He considered the attacks nearly certain.
For a decade, Mueller was wrong—and I’m sure he was more than happy about it. Boston, however, has sadly and belatedly proven him right, at least to a degree. But how can we lower the odds of similar attacks in the future?
Of course, other attacks big and small have occurred in the Western world during the past 10 years—above and beyond the very frequent ones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Syria. There was the train attack in Spain in 2003, and then the London subway bombings in 2005. There have been various attempted attacks in the United States, particularly during the past five years, most of them thwarted—the Zazi New York subway attempt of 2009 and the “underwear” bomber" later that year on a plane approaching Detroit; the 2010 Times Square bombing; the printer-cartridge attempted bombing on cargo aircraft. And of course we have had numerous mass shootings, America’s own form of large-scale terrorist violence. Of these, the Ft. Hood shootings in 2009 were linked to al Qaeda but others generally were not.
Like Ed Koch in New York, Tom Menino has come to symbolize his city. But at a critical moment, he’s been stuck in the hospital in a wheelchair—leaving some wondering if he should have announced his retirement earlier.
Hours after two bombs apparently packed with ball bearings and shrapnel ripped apart the celebratory conclusion of the Boston Marathon, the press gathered for a grim and familiar ritual. Elected officials and civic leaders were updating the public on body counts and appealing for calm. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was there, as was the Boston police commissioner. Noticeably absent, however, was a ubiquitous presence at city press briefings over the last two decades: Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (fourth from left) speaks during a press conference with, among others, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (left), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (second from left), FBI special agent in charge Rick Deloria (fifth from left), and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (fourth from right) on Tuesday about the ongoing investigation into the bombings at the Boston Marathon. (Justin Lane/EPA, via Landov)
At a second news conference two hours later, Menino, who is now in his sixth term and the longest-serving mayor in city history, finally appeared, having been wheeled up in a wheelchair, his shirt untucked, a hospital bracelet on his wrist. Menino spoke for less than a minute before turning the press conference over to Patrick and his police chief. The mayor had been escorted there from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he had been recovering from surgery to repair a leg broken the week before. Menino sounded groggy, though it was unclear if that was a lingering effect of being laid up or just the verbal tics of someone affectionately known as Mayor Mumbles.
Either way, for people used to city leaders projecting calm and resolve at moments of crisis—think Rudy Giuliani ducking debris at the nation’s last major urban terrorist attack—Menino was at last irrelevant.
I lived in Boston during the turmoil of the Vietnam War. Even then, it stood for tolerance and freedom. The marathon bombing goes against everything this city is all about. By Pranay Gupte.
I never expected that Boston would be attacked. I never expected that men, women, and even children who ran in a race—not just competitively but for the fun of it, too—would be attacked.
Flowers and a message are left on Newbury Street, April 16, 2013 in Boston, a few blocks from where two explosions struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday. (Stan Honda)
I never expected this in a hauntingly beautiful old city where I came of age, that place where people like me from all over the world gathered to gain knowledge. They came over the centuries to trade ideas, and they came to reinforce universal ideals such as freedom of speech and movement. They came to challenge one another’s ideologies, to be sure, but they did not come to assault innocent human beings.
They came, most of all, because Boston—one of America’s oldest urban centers—was forever young. And it was always understood that by coming to Boston one was tapping into some strange elixir of youth; that one, too, would remain forever young, forever the keeper of good thoughts and good will.
There were mean rants after the Boston attacks—but more voices urging restraint, sympathy, and cooperation. Lauren Ashburn on how social media has grown up.
It didn’t take long after the bombs exploded in Boston for the online haters and petty partisans to rear their ugly heads.
A woman takes a cellphone shot of a poster on Boylston and Arlington streets in Boston on April 16, a few blocks from where two explosions struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon the day before. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty)
Radio host Alex Jones suggested on Twitter that the bombings may have been a “false flag” operation staged by the Obama administration itself.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin tweeted that she wasn’t covering the bombing because it was a “local crime” story—a shot at a colleague who had dismissed the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell as too local to warrant coverage.
Eight-year-old Martin Richard was a symbol of young enthusiasm. Michael Daly asks, why is he dead today?
All day on Tuesday, the hands of the four-faced clock in Peabody Square remained frozen, at just a shade past 2:50, stopped by a sympathetic soul to mark the time of the bombing and the murder of a little boy.
A Boston police officer lifts the tape for a family to leave flowers at the home of the Richard family, whose 8-year-old son, Martin (inset), was killed by an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on April 16, 2013. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
He was 8-year-old Martin Richard, who had walked past the clock on countless occasions with mother and father, sister and brother.
“We see them all the time,” said a firefighter, stationed at Engine 8/Ladder 6, housed in a firehouse at the edge of Peabody Square.
At makeshift memorials with flowers and Red Sox shirts, candlelit gatherings, Bostonians and marathoners honored Monday’s victims by coming together. Lizzie Crocker reports from Boston.
Dressed in Boston’s yellow-and-blue official marathon gear with a medal around his neck, Michael Kaplinidis stood near the metal barriers blocking off Boylston Street on Tuesday, his eyes fixed on the finish line a block away.
Mourners gather on the edge of the pond in the Boston Public Gardens for a candle light vigil on April 16, 2013 in Boston. (Don Emmert /AFP/Getty)
“I’ve had tears in my eyes all morning,” said Kaplinidis, who grew up in Dorchester and ran in Monday’s race to raise money for a local school charity. He looked down at a makeshift memorial that had been arranged on the guardrail—flowers, balloons, cards, Boston Red Sox T-shirts, and Bengay, a topical pain reliever for sore muscles.
But nothing could numb the aches and pains of a city grieving in the aftermath of Marathon Monday’s attacks, which killed three people and injured at least 140 others. Bostonians, marathon runners, and others mourning Monday’s losses crowded the Back Bay area, taking pictures of abandoned aluminum blankets and other detritus on the barricaded streets.
Officials are reporting that the Boston bombs were placed in a pressure cooker, a tactic used by the terrorist group. That doesn’t prove a link, but it raises important questions, says Eli Lake
A key component of the bombs used yesterday in the attacks on the Boston Marathon resemble the kind of homemade bomb al Qaeda has encouraged English-speaking terrorists to use.
The Daily Beast has confirmed with U.S. counter-terrorism officials that the bombs placed Monday at the marathon were made from pressure cookers, a crude kind of explosive favored by insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A recipe for a bomb that uses the pressure cooker was part of the debut issue of Inspire, the English-language online magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
People run from the scene of an explosion near the finish line at the Boston Marathon April 15, 2013. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe, via Getty)
While the pressure cooker component is far from definitive proof that Monday’s attack was committed associates of al Qaeda, experts inside and outside of the government say it is nonetheless an important lead for investigators.
The question is not whether the feds missed something. They did. The questions are what, and where, and why?
For years a simple message has been posted, in one form or another, all over public transport in Boston: “See Something. Say Something … Instincts tell you to do something? Do something. Call this number …” One sees much the same slogan in New York, in Washington, or for that matter in Paris and London. Public vigilance is an important part of preventing terrorist attacks. And if bystanders on Boylston Street in Boston near the marathon finish line on Monday had seen a couple of stray backpacks, or someone dumping too-large packages into garbage cans, and said “something,” maybe—just maybe—three people would be alive today and more than a hundred could have been saved from injury.
FBI agents talk with firefighters and investigators at the scene of the Boston Marathon explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)
But the first, most important line of defense against terrorist attack is not the public, and it’s not even the cops. It’s not metal detectors or high-tech aerial surveillance. And it’s certainly not the threat of after-the-fact jail time for the bombers in this age of suicidal terrorism.
The best and most important defense is detailed, real-time intelligence about the fanatics and lunatics who may intend to carry out such attacks, and the means that they may use to slaughter innocents. Thus, the critical failure to protect the crowd at the marathon was summed up by Boston Police Commissioner Edward P. Davis in a single phrase: “There was no specific intelligence,” he said, that would suggest such an attack was imminent.
Adrenalized, impassioned, and unforgiving, an uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Ruslan Tsarni, appealed to his fugitive nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to surrender to authorities. 'He put a shame on our family' and 'the entire Chechen ethnicity,' said Tsarni.
In a press briefing Thursday afternoon, the FBI announced two unidentified suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, revealing pictures and video of the men and asking the public for help. "Identifying and locating those responsible is now our highest priority,' said DesLauriers.
From the man in the cowboy hat to a baseball player who wrote 'Pray for Boston' on his glove, heroes big and small emerged in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing.
Speaking from the White House Tuesday, President Obama said the Boston bombing was being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, but clarified that little else is known about who carried out the attack, or why.
Watch video of one of the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon and the country.