Are The Boston Bombings Terrorist Attacks? It Depends On Your Definition

Boston Marathon Bombing Site
Men in bomb-disposal suits investigate the site of an explosion that went off on Boylston Street during the 117th Boston Marathon Monday. Reuters

Are the Boston explosions terrorist attacks? It depends on your definition.

When he addressed the country around 6:15 p.m. EDT, President Barack Obama was criticized in some circles for not using the words “terrorism” or “terror” to describe the explosions that rocked Copley Square during the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon.

But just 15 minutes later, the Obama administration said the twin bombings were “acts of terror.”

During the presidential campaign, Obama was accused of being too slow to describe the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, as terrorism. What he said, and when, became an issue in his debates with then Repuglican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The definition of “terrorism” has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with the FBI and CIA having different criteria when labeling an event as terrorism.

The FBI defines “domestic terrorism” as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

With much still unknown about the Boston bombings, it’s fair to say that this definition does not apply as yet.

But complicating matters even further is that the FBI has two separate definitions for “domestic terrorism” and a “terrorist incident.”

“A terrorist incident is a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the United States, or of any state, to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives,” according to the FBI report Terrorism 2002-2005.

Louis Klarevas, a 2012 Senior Fulbright Scholar in international relations, tweeted that the Boston explosions can be categorized as terrorism under that definition.

But he said it’s too early to tell whether the bombings fall under the CIA definition.

According to the agency, the CIA definition of “terrorism” is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”



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