Boston bombers: Lone wolves or part of a terrorist sleeper cell? UPDATE: “Sleeper cell” malarkey?

Posted by: Phineas on April 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm

**Posted by Phineas

One of the questions outstanding in the wake of the terror-bombing of the Boston Marathon is whether the Tsarnaev brothers acted on their own, as “lone wolves,” or were they part of a terror cell that might well be planning other attacks. At the Daily Beast, authors Christopher Dickey, Eli Lake, and Daniel Klaidman lay out the problems posed by terrorists acting on their own:

These sorts of lone wolves—whether inspired by al Qaeda or a domestic agenda—are in many ways the toughest cases for law enforcement. “Mobile homegrown types are difficult to stop and to find,” says Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “There is not a conspiracy ring to penetrate. It’s very difficult to stop them and find them.”

“The toughest risk to address is the motivated individual with no known connection to groups, who takes it upon himself to do something,” says Roger Cressey, who worked on counterterrorism in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. “The best example of that is Eric Rudolph.”

Compounding the problem is the ease with which the technical knowledge needed to carry out attacks is available online. As the article points out, al Qaeda even has an online magazine, “Inspire,” an article in which showed how to make a bomb similar to the pressure cooker bombs used in Boston. While published by jihadists , the information is there for anyone with a murderous grudge against the world to use.

The threat of the lone wolf jihadist, a Muslim inspired by religion (1) to wage holy war on his own, is one that has worried counterterrorism personnel for years, particularly since American and other nations’ efforts since 9/11 have severely hampered al Qaeda’s ability to carry off catastrophic attacks, such as the attack on New York. Instead, setting their sights lower, the fear is that al Qaeda and other jihad groups would simply educate and train prospective jihadis, and then send them out into the world to find their opportunities. Such is perhaps the case with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the marathon-bombing brothers, who traveled to Russia for six months a few years ago. Did he meet with jihad groups in the volatile Caucasus, his ancestral home?

But even that much “help” might not be necessary to the lone wolf: Major Nidal Hassan, the Army psychiatrist who turned on his comrades in an act of jihad and murdered over a dozen at Ft. Hood, was merely in email contact with an al Qaeda imam, Anwar al-Awlaki (2). The imam provided the ideology, Major Hassan provided the gun.

As the quote above points out, lone terrorists are hard to stop before they strike; warning signs that seem obvious in retrospect are hard to spot beforehand, and it become all to easy to make the wrong judgment call and say that someone isn’t likely a threat.

Until the bomb goes off.

But were the Tsarnaev brothers lone wolves? The UK Mirror reports that the FBI is looking for a “sleeper cell” of up to a dozen individuals:

The FBI was last night hunting a 12-strong terrorist “sleeper cell” linked to the Boston marathon bomb brothers.

Police believe Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were specially trained to carry out the devastating attack.

More than 1,000 FBI operatives were last night working to track down the cell and arrested a man and two women 60 miles from Boston in the hours before Dzhokhar’s dramatic capture after a bloody shootout on Friday.

A source close to the investigation said: “We have no doubt the brothers were not acting alone. The devices used to detonate the two bombs were highly sophisticated and not the kind of thing people learn from Google.

“They were too advanced. Someone gave the brothers the skills and it is now our job to find out just who they were. Agents think the sleeper cell has up to a dozen members and has been waiting several years for their day to come.”

So, which is it? A couple of lone wolves, a clandestine commando unit from an overseas jihad group, or even a mix of both, a “pack” of lone wolves, trained and set loose?

To the police and intelligence agencies charged with protecting us, the answers matter, larger groups being easier to spot and stop than the loner hiding murder in his heart.

But for us, the potential victims, it doesn’t matter all that much. In an age when “soft targets” –marathons, pizza parlors, and book fairs, for example– are the targets of choice, whether the attack comes from the plot of a group or the sociopathic mind of a single person, it’s the act itself that matters.

They’re still trying to kill us.

RELATED: Some articles of interest.

At PJM, Rick Moran wonders what the Russians knew and when they knew it. His colleague Richard Fernandez notes Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a familiar face to the FBI, but our stubborn, foolish concentration on things rather than people makes it easy for him and others to be overlooked. I’ve said the same thing, myself.

Winning today’s “No, really?” award for telling us what we already knew, the LA Times alerts us that the elder Tsarnaev followed radical Islam. Meanwhile, Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism looks at the evidence that the brothers held Islamist beliefs. One has to ask, “how did the FBI miss all this?”

Via Will Antonin comes an article by an academic after my own heart, one who says we are ignoring the roots of the problem.

(1) For example, Sura 9, verse 123 of the Qu’ran: “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).”
(2) Now a satisfying grease spot somewhere in the Yemeni desert.

UPDATE: Veteran reporters on both sides of the Atlantic are calling BS on the Mirror’s story. R.S. McCain questions the sourcing, while Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden agrees.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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16 Responses to “Boston bombers: Lone wolves or part of a terrorist sleeper cell? UPDATE: “Sleeper cell” malarkey?”


  1. Drew the Infidel says:

    As has been evident from the outset, the level of expertise demonstrated by “the brothers Tsarnaev” was the product of training. Whether they were bright students or not means no more than the color of their socks.

    People with murderous intent give clues to their thoughts. Eric Rudolph and the BTK killer could not shut up. Bin Laden gave the world fair warning and these two jackwads used social media to air their venomous ramblings. But how is the FBI equipped to ask the right questions when their policy manuals have had all references to islam and terrorists expurgated?

    The nations that have been great but ignored their national security are now dust and ashes. Where is the Roman Empire? Where is Carthage? Where is Byzantium? Where is the Egypt that once was so great a state?

  2. Xavier says:

    Until (and if) we get answers from #2, it appears that #1 could have self radicalized online by Sheikh Feiz Mohammad and others like him. As much as I believe in non-censorship, online hate speech and the promotion of violence should be prosecuted and eliminated with the same zeal given to pedophiles. Make Google at least semi-accountable for inflammatory speech posted to YouTube and perhaps their rather lax attitude toward radical Islam will change.

  3. Re: “the brothers Tsarnaev”–My apologies to Dostoeyevsky.

  4. Phineas says:

    @ Drew, re: Dostoeyevsky

    You know, that hadn’t even occurred to me. ;)

  5. Carlos says:

    Golly, such a puzzle. Where, oh where, would the FBI begin to investigate?

    What clues do they have? Not many that Mr. My People would want to go to: they were from Chechnya; they were Muslims; they attended a mosque known for radicalizing young followers; others from that particular mosque have undoubtedly had files created on their behalf because of warnings or other investigations.

    Gosh, where in the world could the FBI possibly begin to investigate to find where the radicalism and expertise could have come from?

    Where indeed!

  6. Neo says:

    The PR style “terrorism experts” have to pump up the adrenaline levels in DC so they can stay on the payrolls, especially now that there is the sequester.

    Engaging in “throwing shit at the wall” and hoping some of it sticks, allows them to have their contracting agencies say “but what if it were true ? .. We couldn’t take that chance.”

  7. Neo says:

    File this under … No shit Shakespeare

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts police official say the brothers suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon before having shootouts with authorities didn’t have gun permits.

    Yet another fine example of the “Joys of Gun Control”

  8. Carlos says:

    Didn’t have permits for the bombs, either.

    So, where does that leave the narrative to take guns away from law-abiding citizens “for the safety of everyone, especially the children”?

    Gun “control” is nothing less than an effort of the elitists to get guns out of the hands of those who would shoot back when elitists try to take over the remainder of our country by force because they figure they’ve got enough people in their pocket (read: enough people on the public dole dependent upon government for their living) to force the rest of them into slavery, too.

  9. Drew the Infidel says:

    @Neo and Carlos–Exactly. As I have said here and elsewhere, the domestic violence incident in the older brother’s record is a permanent bar to firearm possession and ownership while the younger was below the minimum legal age of 21.

    The convicted felon who killed the CO prisons chief had a lifetime ban as well. Yet our government pushes for more laws when it only selectively enforces the ones already on the books?

  10. Carlos says:

    Well, the answer to your last question, Drew, in passing additional, redundant but dangerous (for us dumb peons who still believe in things like “liberty” and “freedom”) laws is that the Repubs/conservatives believe the voters will see that they’re doing something, even if it’s wrong, while the Democraps tack onto that the belief that any law is just one more small step toward being the great nanny they envision as the god-goal they worship.

  11. Kate says:

    It seems that the fear is that when you “brand” radical Islam for what it is, you are casting a wide net that “innocents” will be swept up in as well.

    That should be what is done…this is one way to show everyone that you are not immune to questioning if you see these things happening and don’t report them…i.e. people at the mosque they attended, close friends who saw the changes in behavior and anger. We are our brother’s keeper.

    I was sort of surprised by the quick PR job the mosque did to release themselves of “guilt”, mainly because it was a WOMAN reading the statement. Must be a very progressive mosque!

  12. Lorica says:

    It’s pretty obvious the older brother got training while on his 6 month vacation to the homeland. It is pretty obvious that his Mom and Dad helped in his radicalization. My problem is why wasn’t this guy on an FBI watch list?? He was from a known terrorist country, the FBI was asked by Russia to be interview this guy, and yet NO red flags came up when he went for his little vacation?? Come on!!! This guy should have never been allowed back into this country. – Lorica

  13. Carlos says:

    Yeah, Kate, but don’t pay any attention to the suicide pack she had on under her Muslim dress (incidentally, controlled by the imam by remote control, most likely a cell phone in a similar set-up to the bombs used in Boston, just by coincidence) or, if she didn’t have that on, that her husband/father/brother would give her very physical instruction on obeying what she is told to do by her betters (which just happen to be all males).

  14. EBL says:

    Robert Stacy McCain has dim view of the Mirror article.

    But we know Tamerlan Tsarnaev was traveling to Chechnya and that the Russians warned us about him. That is significant. Someone almost certainly convinced him to go radical. I have doubts about a sleeper cell (although it is certainly possible), but I suspect he had help and support (ideologically and/or with his bomb making).

  15. Carlos says:

    No visible means of support, drives a Mercedes (and can afford the gas/diesel for it, and that ain’t cheap in MA), has relatively expensive clothes, had the time to have something of a social life (apparently enjoyed proselytizing). Yeah, I’d say this guy is either sucking off his wife’s family’s money (not real likely) or he had a pipeline to Saudi dough.

    But we don’t have a clue about any Saudis in the area, do we?