As of this moment, US authorities link the two Chechen brothers with the Boston Marathon outrage via an abundance of evidence that includes images from surveillance cameras, photos snapped by members of the public, eyewitness testimony and, most importantly, by the behavior of the alleged bombers themselves: in the aftermath of the carnage, they run, killed a police officer, highjacked a private car and kept its driver hostage briefly, shot it out with police resulting in Tamerlan’s death and the incapacitation of his brother, who was finally apprehended, seriously wounded, on April 19.

The ongoing investigation, aside of dealing with a sea of detail, needs to address four basic questions:

A)  Did the brothers act alone or did they exploit a “backup” team?
B)  Who provided the explosive devices?
C)  What was the process by which the Tsarnaev brothers turned into Islamic jihadists on US soil?
D)  Was the Boston Marathon bombing an isolated event or is it part of a wider conspiracy?

Answering (A) is obviously a top priority because the case must not be allowed to go “cold” – i.e. anyone associated with the brothers in preparation of the outrage must be tracked down and apprehended before they disappear and, quite possibly, use their “expertise” again to murder more innocents. As of this moment it has been reported that US authorities have taken into custody three individuals who may be connected to the brothers in yet unspecified (or unannounced) ways.

Question (B) addresses the issue of terrorist logistics and capability to prepare perhaps more complex and/or bigger devices. The use of pressure cookers does not offer a definite link to any one group or terrorist cell, although some reports pointed out that al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen has recommended their use of pressure cookers for “lone-wolf operatives.” One way or another, the investigation must built an exact blueprint of the action the terrorist(s) dedicated in preparing the weapons they used to murder and maim at Boston so that authorities become aware of possible secondary logistics echelons in the US and/or abroad – and pursue its members accordingly. And if Dzhokhar Tsernaev survives his wounds and put on trial, the procurement of explosives and the making of the bombs will become key evidence for the prosecution.

Question (C) may be the “easiest” to answer via a meticulous examination of the brothers’ existence in the US since they arrived on these shores in 2003 as refugees. It has been reported already that the deceased older brother was the subject of an interview with the FBI because an unidentified foreign government let the US know that there were suspicions Tamerlan was connected to extremist groups. The FBI queries discovered nothing of significance and the foreign government request lapsed. However, Tamerlan left the US in early 2012 and returned several months later; this is a period of time that must be meticulously scrutinized.

The tough part comes with (D) and the need to determine whether the brothers are “lone wolves” or pieces in a wider terrorist plot. If hypothetically this plot does exist, the aim could be well below another 9/11 and, instead, go for multiple, widely dispersed targets with medium level, mass casualty attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing. Islamic extremist groups have ample experience with such tactics – suicide bombers against crowds, car and truck bombs, roadside IEDs and so much more. Any such plot, if it comes to fruition, would produce mass fear and a host of other severe complications including political ramifications and public pressure for increased security that inevitably could affect individual rights.

Perhaps the scariest part of the Boston outrage for intelligence analysts is that the Chechen brothers constituted a “no blip” on the radar, despite the late Tamerlan’s brush with the FBI. Security officials stated that the bombs came literally out of the blue, with no law enforcement or other intelligence agency having the slightest warning that such an attack was on its approach path.

The death and injury caused by the Boston terrorists will form another part of the lessons learned from such hideous crimes. Although this fact is small, if any, consolation to both the families of the killed and the survivors, it is at the same time a significant, if tragic, tool in continuing to improve our defenses against those bend on random death and destruction in support of their fanatic objectives.

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