Hours after the Monday afternoon blasts that claimed the lives of three — including an 8-year-old boy — and injured more than 100 at the Boston Marathon, experts in law enforcement, security and terrorism were reluctant to place blame with a specific group.
But they agreed that with so much evidence — including pieces of the bombs, images taken by cellphones, video cameras and security cameras, and many witnesses— there will be many leads.
There will be a forensic analysis of the bomb sites to determine the type and origins of the devices; a sweep of social media including Facebook and Twitter for photos and films that could include images of the bomber or bombers; and a squeeze on confidential informants for information about the attack, said Anthony C. Roman of New York-based Roman & Associates, specialists in risk management and security consultants.
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"All of that data together will be correlated and collated ..." Roman said, "and they'll formulate theories as to what occurred."
Although Roman declined to speculate on whether the bombings might have been the acts of a foreign terrorist group, a domestic terrorist group, or a "lone wolf," he noted that while Osama bin Laden had favored huge attacks that received major media attention, there was a group of executive leaders of al Qaida that leaned toward smaller bombings.
"The bombs [in Boston] were small and, from what I've gathered so far, not incredibly sophisticated ... so it's hard to tell, but it'll be interesting to see if we're finding new patterns in the message of organized terror attacks," Roman said.
Michael Clark, a retired FBI agent who worked the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where bombings were a major concern, said law enforcement officials will be exhaustive in their investigation before formulating their theories.
"You gather the evidence, you analyze the evidence, and then you follow it. And that's exactly what they'll do. No matter how good or primitive the bombers are, they'll catch up with them," said Clark, now a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven. "They're putting a jigsaw puzzle together both in evidence or in building a theory of the case."
Officials want to look at any images taken at the scene to determine whether the bomber or bombers used a cellphone to detonate the devices — or were possibly suicide bombers, Clark said.
Clark noted that Monday was Patriots Day. "It's interesting because terrorist organizations are big on dates and anniversaries." he said.
Connecticut College history professor Catherine McNicol Stock, an expert in domestic terrorism, noted that the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened Apil 19, 1995, took place two days after Patriots Day, which is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. It is a state holiday in Massachusetts. "These things do happen around Patriots Day. That's actually on purpose … The Boston Marathon isn't just a patriotic moment in Boston. It is a worldwide event."
"I know enough to know that's a day of the year, the time of year, when people commit crimes like this."
"Lexington and Concord are like a touchstone,'' she said. "It's when you fight back."
Colleen Driscoll, a Quinnipiac University professor who teaches courses on the Middle East, said, "They were talking about this as a symbolic target. I'm sure it was, to some extent. But the question is: 'Is it someone who's just crazy like Newtown, someone's whose mind has gone, or does this have a larger element to it?'"