Local Terrorism: the third wave

It is early days yet for both the investigation and the legal process but we are beginning to know bits and pieces about two brothers, graduates of Cambridge Rindge and Latin, the same school that produced Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who decided to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Farah Stockman had a very thoughtful column in the Boston Globe this morning.  She begins with a book written in 2008 by Mark Sageman, a former CIA psychiatrist, who predicted “The threat is no longer ‘foreign fanatics,’ but people who grew up in the West.”   His book is “Leaderless Jihad”  Stockman continues

We still don’t know how much support the Boston Marathon bombers had from overseas. Chechnya’s main militant group, Caucasus Emirate, denies any link to the brothers. Instead, the Marathon bombing appears to be the work of what Sageman describes as the “Third Wave” of terrorism. The Third Wave isn’t about Al Qaeda grooming recruits and dispatching them to do its bidding. It’s about young men who surf the Internet and decide on their own to write their names in history with a bomb. They get inspiration from Al Qaeda. In some cases, they even get training. But they are the ones that seek it out.

“Like Harvard, Al Qaeda did not have to recruit,” Sageman wrote. Young men came in droves, begging for an affiliation.

Sageman says the average recruit at Al Qaeda Central in the 1990s was nearly 30 years old. The average Third Waver is in his early 20s. The majority of Al Qaeda Central grew up in religious homes. About 75 percent of the Third Wavers had fairly secular childhoods.

So why would they turn to building bomb and other acts of terrorism.

For some, it was out of a warped romanticism for a homeland they barely knew; an act of rebellion against hardworking immigrant parents who brought them to the West for “a better life.” Others were US-born converts to Islam who found in terrorism a sense of camaraderie and purpose that had eluded them all their lives. A few became terrorists after years of gang-banging and drug dealing. It was an ideology that transformed their violent tendencies into something heroic. It made them feel they were on the side of the angels.

Both Tsarnaev Brothers were heavy smokers of marijuana and local police are now looking at a connection between them and the murder of the man Tamerlan once said was his only American friend.  Brendan Mess was one of the victims of a triple homicide.  The murders have never been solved.

Third Wavers “are basically trying to find out who they are,” Sageman said. “Their identities are very different from their parents. What they imagine their parents’ country to be never really was.”

That rings true of the Tsarnaev brothers, whose parents immigrated to the Boston area in 2002. The older brother, who dropped out of community college and was once accused of assaulting a girlfriend, might have been casting about for something to believe in. Searching the Internet for information about his troubled homeland in Chechnya would have yielded a trove of jihadi websites full of rhetoric about America’s “war against Islam.’’ As he became more radical, he may have dragged his more outgoing and successful younger  brother down with him.

We will know much more in the days and months ahead, but I think that Sageman and Stockman are right:  the time of terror from outside is over.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not the first local to be tried in Boston.  Tarek Mehanna, from nearby wealthy suburb  Sudbury  was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to support Al Qaeda. He was sentenced in April 2012 to 17½ years in federal prison.  His actions also surprised everyone who knew him.

These crimes may have been inspired by outside forces, but they are crimes in an ordinary sense and the voices, mostly Republican, clamoring for miliary tribunals and an end to immigration have it all wrong.  I think part of the venom is because Boston is a symbol of what the right calls “liberal” America.  And maybe we are.  But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen and deserves to be tried as one.  He is not an “enemy combatant”.   And if Sageman is right, and he appears to be, we can expect to see more of these incidents and trials in our future.  And as the right complains about unanswered questions, we have to remember that some information will be kept for trial and some questions we won’t know the answers to for a long time.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013.  Copley Square.

The moment of silence at 2:50 pm April 22, 2013. Copley Square.

The miracle for Boston is that there were only four people killed and close to 300 now reported as injured.  All of the injured are now expected to live.

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