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

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  • Shiraz Maher (@ShirazMaher) is a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London. Samar Batrawi is a research associate at ICSR.
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