Fri, Apr 26, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The changing nature of terrorism

Was the Boston bombing “home-grown” or driven by an international network? Or does the distinction no longer apply when terrorism is at once global and local?

By Jason Burke  /  The Guardian

However, the pair, whose parents are of Chechen origin, had, after time spent in Russia and Dagestan, both been in the US for at least seven years, possibly nine.

Caught between a culture they knew, but had left behind, and a society that welcomed them, but they could not possess, it is not difficult to imagine the gradual hardening of hate as money troubles loomed, the parents squabbled and divorced, the friendships proved hard to build and sustain. Tamerlan, the eldest, appears to have had the greater trouble, despite his marriage and child.

“I don’t have a single American friend,” he is reported to have said.

There is little evidence of religious devotion until a trip to Dagestan last year.

Terrorists are rarely loners such as Mohamed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Mohammad Sidique Khan, who led the July 7 bombers, left behind a young daughter. Cells consist of various personality types, just like gangs. Terrorism is a social activity like any other.

One of the best predictors of militant activity, the security services have found, is the involvement of a close relative or peer. Neither of the Tsarnaev brothers are likely to have ever envisaged murder or their own deaths when they began to be interested in the militant videos they saw on the Internet. Radicalization is a gradual process, if sometimes a rapid one, and never an instant decision.

So were the bombs international or domestic terrorism?

The answer, of course, is neither. The division is an arbitrary one. Only a tiny fraction of terrorist attacks across the world in the past decade have been authentically “international.” Whether in Iraq or Pakistan, Europe or the US, most have involved individuals or loose networks attacking local targets only a short distance from where they live, with local materials assembled locally. The “spectacular,” such as Sept. 11 or the globe-trotting operative, like the “underpants bomber,” are the exceptions. The odd video viewed by a bomber on the Internet may be global, but the reality of terrorism is deeply local.

The Boston bombings were not suicide attacks, the trademark of al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups in the past decade. We do not know if the Tsarnaev brothers had a coherent further plan, or hoped eventually to achieve “martyrdom.” No videoed last testament has yet surfaced nor any other indication that the bombings were supposed to “send a message.”

The suicide bomb was a tactic custom-made for a television age, where the bomber’s own “sacrifice” supposedly bore witness to the righteousness of his cause and the mass casualties would shock and awe a vast audience. The aim was to radicalize and mobilize all those in the Islamic world who were yet to “take up arms.” It was propaganda by deed. In Boston, there was no “martyrdom” and no propaganda.

Indeed, the attack itself, with its unsophisticated, but effective smaller bombs, the homemade grenades, the automatic weapons, the hold-up and the shootout, recalls not just the many low-grade, low-profile, Islamic militant attacks familiar throughout much of the Islamic world in recent years. It also mirrors violence of another kind, one that is equally familiar in the US: that of the all-American teenagers who take guns into schools to kill classmates, or the adults who gun down their colleagues in the office.

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