Danger lies in small-scale attacks
While watching coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing Monday, a security expert commented on something that I too have been wondering about for some time.
He said those tasked with thwarting terror attacks have been questioning for years why terrorists were not making more use of small-scale bomb attacks here in the United States.
While some are still speculating about whether it was even a terror attack, I think there is little question. These were not accidental explosions and when someone or some group commits to this type of coordinated attack, it is obviously to create public fear — that by definition is a form of terrorism whatever the motive or nationality of the perpetrator may be.
Much of the focus of American security efforts since the 9/11 attacks has been on larger-scale terrorism, based on the outcome of those tragic events. But in reality, the true danger lies in smaller-scale attacks like the one Monday.
They are easier to accomplish and require much less sophistication and preparation than a 9/11 style attack. They may not have the magnitude or trauma of that kind of attack, but they do spread fear as the public realizes they can occur just about anywhere and could potentially involve just about anyone.
The major requirements are that it take place at some kind of public event that is likely to draw large numbers of people and to get media attention.
That is what happened at the Boston Marathon.
It is noteworthy that some authorities are now saying the bombers appear to have used metal pressure cookers packed with explosives and metal objects that would act as shrapnel. The intent of these type of devices is to inflict maximum harm to nearby people. The exploding metal fragments kill and cause horrendous wounds if they do not kill. They are designed to create public horror.
Terrorists have chosen to use these same style devices in other nations for years for exactly that reason.
America has been fortunate that up until now, terrorists had either not chosen to use these devices or were thwarted in some cases by their detection.
U.S. security forces have long been aware of the potential danger of this type of weapon. That is why you see warnings that packages or bags should not be left unattended in public places like airports. Even at the Boston Marathon there were reports that there had been several sweeps for potential bombs prior to the explosions.
The success of this attack may very well change how we view potential terrorism in America.
These types of smaller-scale attacks may become more likely, along with terror tactics like car bombs, suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices which can be remotely detonated. Our troops in the Middle East know full well the danger of IEDs, which inflict the majority of deaths or horrendous injuries there.
There will undoubtedly be an increase and shift in security measures in the wake of the Boston Marathon. At the same time, security officials will also tell you how very difficult it is to entirely thwart these types of attacks. A determined person — especially if willing to die in the attempt — can succeed in killing others.
Bomb terrorism is not new in our nation. Remember the Oklahoma City bombing and the Atlanta Olympics bombing?
But if this turns out to be an organized group effort, we may be facing a new type of terrorism here in America. If so, we will have to adapt and show fortitude as we always have in the face of attacks.
Terry Ross is the former editor of the Yuma Sun.