Are the Muslim Boston Bombers “Lone Wolves” or “Al Qaeda Terrorists”?

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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The question here is what makes a Muslim terrorist a lone wolf as opposed to a member of a group? The Boston bombers were two brothers so calling them lone wolf terrorists already mangles the obvious meaning of the term. Not only were there two of them, but it would appear that Tamerlan’s wife and mother were also in on it at least to some degree.

But the larger question is whether a Muslim terrorists who aligns ideologically with Al Qaeda, follows their tactics and their instructions, but makes his own plans of attack without getting a specific command to go ahead from an Al Qaeda leader, is a lone wolf or another Al Qaeda terrorist?

The question has come up with Nidal Hasan, but it’s more glaringly an issue now as it becomes clear that the Boston marathon massacre closely followed Al Qaeda instructions.

A detailed analysis of the bombs used at the Boston Marathon and during a firefight between the suspects and law enforcement shows how closely the bombmakers followed instructions from the digital al Qaeda magazine “Inspire,” according to a government document obtained by NBC News.

The unclassified report from the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center found that the pipe bombs allegedly thrown from a car by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev during last Friday’s chase through Watertown, Mass., resembled the design described in “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” an article in the first issue of the English-

language magazine. At least one of the Watertown bombs used an elbow pipe wrapped in black tape, as discussed in “Inspire.”

“The use of elbow pipes specifically is unique,” states the report, “and rare in other extremist and anarchist literature.”

According to the TEDAC analysis, the pressure-cooker bombs also match the “Inspire” designs in their use of spherical shrapnel and gunpowder from fireworks, as well as the possible use of Christmas tree lights as an initiator.

So we have terrorists who are

1. Inspired by Al Qaeda

2. Follow Al Qaeda instructions to the letter

3. But choose their own targets

The official narrative is that they are lone wolves, but that overlooks the shift in Al Qaeda tactics to crowdsourcing terrorism to lone wolves.

Al Qaeda has been decentralizing ever since the United States came down on it in Afghanistan. It has countless smaller affiliates, some of which deny or admit the connection. And its focus has been on encouraging individual Jihadists to follow its call by carrying out attacks in America and Europe.

Treating those individuals as criminals, rather than detached members of a terrorist group, represents a failure to keep up with Al Qaeda tactics.

We have long since recognized that a student can receive a degree without setting foot on campus. People can and do work for companies without ever having come into physical contact with a manager of that company. It may be time to recognize that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were freelance members of Al Qaeda, carrying out its general instructions, using its ideas and manuals to carry out its purposes.

In the age of the internet, the old model of defining Al Qaeda members based on their visit to a training camp or physical contact with known Al Qaeda members is outmoded and outdated. Even if it turns out that Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn’t visit a training camp or meet with Jihadists during his Dagestan trip, even though he probably did, does his detached online status fundamentally change the parameters of what Al Qaeda is doing and what he did?

  • Mary Sue

    By pretending they're lone wolves, they hope to stick their heads in the sand deeper about the actual "root causes".

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    Need more proof as to who their paymasters are? – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/04/22/the-chechen-c
    http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/04/25/irans-bloody-

    And so much more…..

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • Michael Copeland

    The wolf is a pack animal. There is always a wolf hierarchy.

  • Edward Cline

    Adult wolves teach their pups how to stalk, hunt, and kill. So does every other species of predator animal. The difference between wolves and men is that men have the attributes of volition, and of being able to choose values. The Tsarnaev brothers were taught by wolves, and chose to kill. That makes them full-fledged members of a pack. They ought to be treated as trained predators. But, Attorney General Holder put the kibosh on that by treating them as "lone wolves" and not as volunteer foot soldiers of an invading army.

  • http://twitter.com/TjBinks1 @TjBinks1

    http://jcpa.org/al-qaedas-branch-in-gaza-set-to-e

    Yes, alqueda is involved more than people realize.

  • HiPlainsDrifter

    They are both…lone wolfs and AlQueda terrorists. All on the same page of the unholy koran…

  • InfidelHere

    Muslims continued their Jihad against other religions for 1400 years, checked only by the ability of non-Muslims to defend themselves. To this day, not a week goes by that Islamic fundamentalists do not attempt to kill Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists explicitly in the name of Allah.

    None of these other religions are at war with each other.

    Islam is the only religion that has to retain its membership by threatening to kill anyone who leaves. This is according to the example set by Muhammad.

  • BS77

    Who cares? Our immigration situation…legal and illegal entry….is a DISASTER.

  • Mi Di

    I am amazed that nobody ever talks about the History of Al Qaeda anymore… Please people go and do your own research… Understand why Al Qaeda actually exists.. Then we can talk about the actual reasons people carry out these attacks…

  • Mason

    they are terrorist of Islam