Boston, April 19, 2013 (Vjeran Pavic / Flickr)
Residents of Boston, pundits, and analysts were not the only ones confused by last month’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. In jihadist forums, as in the mainstream media, a debate has raged about the suspects’ motivations, allegiances, training, and possible other plans. As in the rest of the world, no one had good answers about whether the Tsarnaev brothers were operating directly under al Qaeda’s command or were lone wolves, whether they had trained in terrorist camps or found most of the know-how they put to deadly use online, or whether they were part of a larger cell planning further atrocities.
In the broadest sense, the online jihadist community celebrated the attacks. It is hardly surprising, of course, that an attack against the United States was welcomed by people committed to the nation’s destruction. Most users on two of the most popular forums, Ansar al-Mujahideen and Shamikh, expressed their simple approbation by posting “Alhamdulillah” (praise God) or “Allah Akbar” (God is great). For these users, the Boston bombings demonstrated both the enduring nature of jihad and the United States’ ongoing vulnerability to attack. As one forum member wrote, “America is on the way to destruction.” Another, who calls himself Fata Muslim Ghuwair, wrote, “I am crying tears of joy for these new strikes at the heart of America ... Our late Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, your soldiers and sons honour you even after your death.”
But the euphoria has not been universal in jihadist communities. The more temperate among the forums’ members expressed only qualified support. Yes, the bombers caused fear and panic, they wrote, but they also appeared to lack the ambition of al Qaeda at its most audacious. This view is well summarized by one participant, who wrote, “I don’t think al-Qaeda is behind [the attack on Boston] because al-Qaeda’s attacks are much better managed than what we have witnessed.” Some forum members even deemed the relatively small attack as