Technical analysis offers first clues about Boston Marathon bomber(s)
April 16, 2013 16 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Counterterrorism experts probing Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon are bound to start searching for the culprits by focusing on the technical specifications of the attacks. According to the Boston Police Department, three people were killed and at least 144 were injured —many of them critically— by the blasts, which rocked downtown Boston at 2:45 p.m. local time. The second explosion was carefully timed to coincide with the initial blast, and occurred just ten seconds later, fewer than 100 yards down the road from the site of the first explosion. At least one report stated that law enforcement teams found and dismantled up to five additional devices at the site, which had failed to detonate. But one police official later denied these reports, saying that “closer examinations led [the police] to doubt that [the devices] were bombs”. If additional devices were indeed present at the site of the blast, it is likely that they failed to detonate due to the collapse of the wireless network in Boston, which was knocked down by a sudden spurt in usage following the initial blasts. If, as it appears, these bombs were types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and if suicide terrorism was not involved, chances are the devices were remotely triggered using the diodes commonly found inside the speakers of inexpensive cell phones. Depending on the constitution of the bombs themselves, they could contain ball bearings, screws, or other metal fragments stuffed inside a container around some type of explosive.
There has been speculation on the Internet that the smoke caused by the explosions may point to the use of synthetic fertilizer as the main explosive. This could only be the case if the IEDs used were large in size, because it would take a tremendous amount of commercial fertilizer to cause an explosion capable of causing mass casualties. Considering that the main tactical objective of the bomber(s) would have been to build IEDs small enough to remain unnoticed by the huge crowds attending the Boston Marathon, the use of fertilizer can be considered unlikely. The ideal ordnance for this type of terrorist attack would be a dense, high-grade explosive, such as Composition 4 (C-4) plastic explosive. The latter is the explosive of choice for both religious and secular terrorist groups the world over. But a report on CNN on Monday suggested that no high-grade explosive was used in the Boston Marathon blasts, which would appear to be substantiated by the relatively low number of casualties. Indeed, putting aside the tragic loss of life, one is struck by the low number of casualties, considering that the IEDs were placed among the crowd of spectators.
Government authorities in Washington said on Monday night that no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts had been issued by any individuals or groups. However, based on a technical analysis of the bombings —which at this early point inevitably remains speculative— one can cautiously infer that the culprit or culprits possessed rudimentary knowledge and limited experience of IED architecture. Consequently, the explosive devices used where crude in both conception and execution, but were made more potent by their placement among the crowd of spectators. This is hardly professional work of the sort one would associate with al-Qaeda, though it might be the creation of an al-Qaeda-inspired domestic terrorist cell. Alternatively, it could point to a secular far-right group or individual, who might have been inspired by the actions of Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik. It is worth noting that he too employed IEDs in the 2011 Norway attacks, which killed 77 people, although in his case, he constructed a car bomb employing fertilizer and fuel oil.