After a dozen years of the war on terror, America has grown somewhat complacent toward the threat of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism here at home.
It’s clear that the war abroad and our security measures at home have rendered al-Qaida incapable of executing a large-scale strike against the United States comparable to the twin towers and Pentagon attacks of 2001 that left nearly 3,000 dead. Instead, al-Qaida has been relegated to failed, individual attempts such as “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
To be sure, lone lunatics like Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 at Fort Hood in 2009, may have been inspired by Islamic fanaticism. But evidence suggests that he was acting alone.
Now, with the Boston Marathon bombings, it appears we have something different, something that falls between the massive terrorist operation of Sept. 11, 2001, and the individual attacks by the likes of the shoe bomber.
Two brothers, born in the Russian region of Chechnya and its environs, had come to the United States and seemed to be building lives for themselves here. But at some point, their native Muslim beliefs became radicalized to the point that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly decided to construct bombs made of steel bearings, nails and pressure cookers and set them off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Tamerlan, 26, was an amateur boxer who had recently married and had a child. Dzhokhar, 19, was a college student at UMass Dartmouth. What force could turn such seemingly ordinary young men into instruments of evil? Do not doubt that evil is the correct word. The bombs they are accused of building were designed to inflict maximum human injury. A photo from the blast site shows Dzhokhar leaving the scene, having just placed the knapsack containing the bomb near the feet of young Martin Richard, the 8-year-old killed in the bombing.
On Thursday, the FBI released photos of the then-unknown suspects, making their identification a matter of time. Late that night, the brothers allegedly shot and killed an MIT police officer, hijacked a car, robbed the driver, and led police on a chase into neighboring Watertown as they lobbed explosives at the cops from their speeding vehicle. There, they engaged in a gun battle with police that left Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar on the run.
After a daylong manhunt that shut down Boston and its suburbs on the north bank of the Charles River, Dzhokhar was captured alive hiding in a stored boat in a home’s backyard.
Dzhokhar is recovering in the hospital and reportedly is talking to investigators. We may learn more about what motivated the brothers to go on their terror spree.
Already, there is speculation that Tamerlan, who had recently spent six months in Chechnya, may have received terrorist training there. The design of the pressure-cooker bomb comes from an al-Qaida Internet pamphlet for would-be jihadis. We may never learn the full extent of their link with known terrorist organizations.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may not have been bona-fide al-Qaida operatives sent on a mission to terrorize Americans. But they surely were fellow travelers with the al-Qaida philosophy.
It’s one thing to wage war against a terrorist organization that has facilities, installations and a leadership structure to attack. It’s another matter to fight a philosophy of hatred.
One day, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a well-liked college student — an all-American boy, despite the unusual name. The next day, he’s allegedly blowing up men, women and little kids with a homemade bomb.
If this is the new front in the war on terror, we will be hard-pressed to defeat it.