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May 09, 2013

Islamist Radicals React Online to Boston Attacks

by Henry Ridgwell

Radical Islamists have been reacting online to the bomb attacks that struck the Boston Marathon last month. While some have praised the attacks, analysts say other users of online Jihadist forums see them as a setback to their wider cause.

The bombings at the Boston Marathon not only caught U.S. intelligence services by surprise; on Jihadist websites, debate has raged over the motivations and implications, according to Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization located in London.

"In the most generic and broadest sense, there was a sense of celebration on the Jihadi forums. These guys are committed Jihadists. They hate the United States and the West,"  Maher said.

But, says Maher, some online users thought the Boston attacks had diminished their cause.

 "They felt that this might compromise more spectacular and larger scale attacks. And there was also a sense that the amateurishness of the attacks would also kind of detract from al-Qaida's modus operandi, which has traditionally focused on large scale, spectacular attacks," Maher said.

However Maher says there is a realization among Jihadists that their ability to stage such attacks causing mass casualties has been reduced by Western intelligence and security.

"Al-Qaida's developed a new tactic which is to essentially say, even if it can't take lives directly, it wants to inflict economic and financial losses on the United States and the West more generally," Maher said.

The chief suspects in the Boston attacks, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, appear to have planned the attacks without outside help.

Terror analyst Raffaello Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute says al-Qaida cells based in the Middle East and Africa are encouraging radicalized individuals in the West through the internet.

"Open-source jihad as they call it, in which individuals are very much empowered or the emphasis is on them to launch attacks where they can on targets that they specifically identify using materials to hand," Pantucci said.
 
Pantucci says the challenge for intelligence services is that so-called 'lone wolves' may not be detected by traditional means like monitoring communications.

"They don't necessarily set these trip wires off. And so therefore intelligence agencies aren't able to rely on that," he said. "As a result this is a much harder prospect to try to identify and prevent earlier. How can you tell that an individual like Tamerlan Tsarnaev is headed down the path that he was?"

Analysis by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization suggests up to 600 foreign Jihadists from Europe alone have travelled to fight in Syria. Maher says the focus appears to have moved away from the West.

"Syria is almost certainly the number one priroty today for the online Jihadist community and for Jihadists on the ground. So in a sense there's a slight recalibration of priorities, where the Islamists and Jihadists think they have a real opportunity to shape events on the ground," Maher said.

The danger for the West, say analysts, comes when the Syrian conflict ends and the foreign Jihadists return home.