Experts: Bombers wanted notoriety, maximum damageAnnemarie McAvoy in USA Today, April 16, 2013
Setting off two bombs filled with shrapnel at the end of a crowded, highly publicized sporting event illustrates an interest in gaining attention and inflicting massive injuries, according to several bomb and terrorism experts. Narrowing down who could be responsible for the Boston bombings, however, may be challenging because a foreign terrorist could just as easily be responsible as a disgruntled American, they say.
"We were lucky that the bomber was not more sophisticated and did not create a more powerful bomb," said Bradley Buckles, who served as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from 1999 to 2004. "But it sounds like that they operated the way (that) the bomber intended and injured a lot of innocent people."
Buckles, who oversaw the bureau's 9/11 response, compared the Boston bombing to the 1996 bombing of the Atlanta Olympics. In that case, Eric Rudolph left a knapsack that later exploded, spreading shrapnel around Centennial Olympic Park, killing one person and injuring more than 100.
"These types of devices can be constructed by almost anyone," Buckles said. "It doesn't require a great deal of sophistication. It's fairly easy to learn the technology of developing and manufacturing these devices."
The bombs used in Boston, which were reportedly made of pressure cookers with metal ball bearings, don't require a great deal of sophistication but inflict major damage by spraying metal into people's bodies leaving lasting injuries, said Michael Weiser, an attorney and Middle East analyst based in California. "Those they couldn't kill, they wanted to hurt as much as possible," he said.
Annemarie McAvoy, a Fordham University law professor who teaches classes on terrorism, echoed Buckles and Weiser. "We are lucky so far that more people have not died," she said, adding that the bombing in Boston was similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Overseas, two-part bombings hurt people by setting off an initial bomb and then - moments later - setting off a second one directed at responders who are trying to help victims. "They want as big an impact as they can get, and they get that by doing these dual bombings," she said.
Buckles, however, said it was too early to say whether the Boston bombs fit into that category since the bombs were only about 10 seconds apart Monday. Such rapid succession makes this attack different from cases in Iraq where second bombs are often set off much later, he said.
Investigators will try to reconstruct the bomb using every piece of evidence left at the scene and attempt to find out where the materials could have been purchased, Buckles said. In doing so, authorities will compare the bombs used in Boston to the U.S. Bomb Data Center, which houses information about bombs used in past incidents around the country.
"People tend to follow the same patterns, and it's sometimes possible to identify potential suspects," Buckles said. "Experts in this area can take all of these tiny pieces of evidence and quite often develop a number of leads based on how the bomb was constructed and what materials were used."
Meanwhile, McAvoy thinks the timing of the bomb - during the Boston Marathon, Patriot's Day and on Tax Day - points to several possible motives. Investigators also may look at whether the New York City Marathon, which was canceled this year because of Superstorm Sandy, may have been an original target, she said. "It could be a very organized attack, a lone wolf or two or three people working on the blueprints of how it's done overseas," McAvoy said.
Robin Kerner, a psychologist at Roosevelt Hospital in New York, theorizes that placing the bombs at the finish line shows that the bombers wanted notoriety and wanted to hurt vulnerable people who were celebrating. "They knew there were live cameras and that people would be watching," she said. "It's really to undermine our sense of safety."