The two brothers identified as the Boston marathon bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar, are ethnic Chechens who probably lived in nearby areas in Central Asia before immigrating legally to the United States. Because the region is known as a breeding ground for radical Islamic terrorists?Chechens have been connected with terrorist attacks in Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa?this connection will be a focal point of the investigation into their motives, if indeed the brothers are confirmed as the Boston bombers.
The brutal Russian suppression of Chechnya in 1995 and 2000 did two things: radicalize a generation of Chechens and spread hundreds of thousands of refugees across the globe. It would appear that these two were among the young diaspora from that conflict. Would the brothers have taken their grievances with them, or were they radicalized here in the United States? It's impossible to know, but it's probably a mix of both. The connectedness of the globe has ensured that anyone with interest can hear a terrorist message, become involved, research bomb making, and learn evasion tactics. You don't need to travel overseas to get terrorist training.
The brothers have been in the United States for many years, including their most formative ones. Dzhokhar, 19-year-old resident of Cambridge, Mass., immigrated legally to the United States as a child. He was on the high school wrestling team; one classmate told a local NESS station, "We didn't think he was anywhere near capable of anything like this?He wasn't a loner or anything." His older brother Tamerlan was 26 and may have had more direct experience with the refugee experience; fewer people are rushing forward to describe him and he has fewer public records.
It's easy to suppose that the older brother was not as well adjusted, and may have led his younger sibling into a radical path. That is all guesswork for now, but the reason this theory is easy to swallow is that it's familiar. Many terrorists are motivated by family ties, and cells routinely recruit family members because they are trustworthy and reliable.
The homeland security debate will be reinvigorated, and much of the talk will center on Boston. One area of interest is the use of video cameras, and this event showcases the uses and limits of current video technology. In short, camera are great for solving crimes but, as currently used, inefficient at preventing them. The pro-camera side will argue for even more cameras, possibly imbued with algorithms that employ facial recognition, or can alert law enforcement to anomalies like a backpack that has not moved for a while. In fact, the ACLU says, the camera network in Boston was installed with such upgrades.
But those enhancements would not have prevented the Boston bombing. Big crowds make smart video ineffective, and the brothers were not on a terrorist watch list (that we know of). The use of explosive-sniffing dogs, a more observant police presence, and a hyper-aware population are more obvious improvements.
Another part of the security debate is guns. The pair had access to firearms, killed at least one person with them, and got in a shootout with police. This could cast a national security shadow on the current gun control debate?however, these two would have cleared any gun checks that exist or are proposed. Expect the pro-gun advocates to argue that when terrorists run amok through the streets, carjacking vehicles, holding up convenience stores, and killing people, an armed populace could make soft targets a little harder.
The Boston bombings are reminiscent of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. And that's bad news. The Mumbai attacks involved bombings followed by a shooting spree. The attackers had no exit strategy except a violent death. It was a new way of pulling off terrorist acts, as opposed to hijackings and assassinations.
Terrorist attacks that come in waves are more complex to plan and require pretty steely discipline to execute. A suicide bomber is scary because he can infiltrate anywhere, but after that singe act, their part is over. In an odd way it's an easier attack to pull off, psychologically. A spree terrorist has a more aggressive, damaging outlook. These kinds of attackers will spread the chaos and fear as long and far as possible. The antidote for Mumbai-style attacks are heavily armed, quick reaction teams of police officers. The way to bust a cell before it strikes is a local police intelligence network of informants and surveillance. Neither of these are comfortable for the public in a democracy.
It may be that the Tsarnaev brothers had a poor plan, or none at all, for after the marathon bombing. But security forces must prepare for these organized waves of attacks.