It has been a night of extraordinary scenes from Boston as the late shift gawps at an unfolding true-crime story as extraordinary as any since the O.J. Simpson saga. Earlier in the day the FBI published photos of two suspects in Tuesday’s bombing attack on the Boston Marathon. Men closely matching the description of those individuals knocked over a 7-Eleven in the city Thursday night, then are alleged to have slain a campus cop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and briefly taken a hostage. They were tracked to the suburb of Watertown, where they engaged in a spectacular firefight with at least a dozen different police forces. One man, the suspected marathon bomber depicted wearing a black cap in the FBI photos, seems to have rushed the police with an explosive attached to his chest; he was dead on arrival at hospital and doctors said he presented with “blast injuries to the trunk” along with an uncountable number of bullet holes. The other man, the one supposedly spotted at the marathon wearing a white cap, clambered into a vehicle, drove through the police cordon, and remains at large.
The internet-detective community, which has had a fairly impressive week, believed at times tonight that it had confirmed the identity of White Hat; he was thought to be a troubled Brown University student who had disappeared not long before the marathon, at around the time some pipe bombs went off in Hanover, Mass. That story is now being forcefully contradicted by, at the very least, NBC News and the AP, who are reporting that Black and White Hat are foreign nationals, resident in the U.S. for at least a year, and not students. They were initially reported to be brothers “from a region of Russia near Chechnya”; with the formal identification that followed shortly, that now seems to be an overcautious reference to Chechnya itself. At any rate, the pair are certainly ethnic Chechens, with a social media signature indicating deep devotion to Islam.
The recent terrorist attack most reminiscent of the pair’s activities, I think, is the rampage engineered by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai in 2008. The Mumbai attacks were pure terrorism, random to the point almost of being nonsensical; Lashkar-e-Taiba simply gave 10 attackers some commando training, gave them loads of steroids and cocaine, and turned them loose on high-profile targets. I checked to see whether Lashkar-e-Taiba might have some recent reason for beef with the U.S.A. Turns out it has a fairly big one. I also checked to see whether Lashkar-e-Taiba has a connection with Chechnya. Turns out it has an established recent history of training Chechens in pairs for attacks on Western targets. Take it for what it’s worth (probably not much, but you never know). Here’s a good primer on LeT: the “root causes” crowd may wish to note that its “well-educated recruits defy the idea that poverty and ignorance breed extremism.”