NYT Page One Story on 'Jihadists Push New Tactics' Includes Picture of McVeigh, Punches Holes in 'Acted Alone' Meme

A New York Times story posted online Sunday evening and appearing at Column 1 on Page 1 in today's print edition included a picture of 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh -- hardly a jihadist, at least not directly -- alongside that of three real jihadists: alleged Ft. Hood mass murderer Nidal Hasan, foiled Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Another curiosity is the difference between the official headline of Scott Shane's report ("A Homemade Style of Terror: Jihadists Push New Tactics") and the browser window title ("Terrorists Find Online Education for Attacks"). That's interesting, because the presence of the "online education" and the following paragraphs in Shane's report effectively punch a gaping hole in the official meme, most strongly propagated by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and President Barack Obama, that Tsarnaev and his now-dead brother Tamerlan "acted alone":


Aware that intensified American counterterrorism efforts have made an ambitious Sept. 11-style plot a long shot, Al Qaeda propagandists for several years have called on their devotees in the United States to carry out smaller-scale solo attacks and provided the online education to teach them how.

“I strongly recommend all of the brothers and sisters coming from the West to consider attacking America in its own backyard,” wrote Samir Khan, an American who joined Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch and emerged as a fervent advocate of homegrown, do-it-yourself terrorism before he was killed in an American drone strike in September 2011.

“The effect is much greater, it always embarrasses the enemy, and these types of individual decision-making attacks are nearly impossible for them to contain,” Mr. Khan wrote in a Web publication.

The Boston Marathon bombing — which the authorities believe was carried out according to instructions that Mr. Khan posted online — offers an unsettling example of just how devastating such an attack can be, even when the death toll is low. It shows how plotters can construct powerful bombs without attracting official attention. It offers a case study in the complex mix of personality and ideology at work in extremist violence. And it raises a pressing question: Is there any way to detect such plotters before they can act?

... At a news conference on Tuesday, President Obama suggested that the bombers had acted on their own, saying that “one of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States.” Mr. Obama said such plots “are in some ways more difficult to prevent.”

So far, the Tsarnaev brothers appear to have been radicalized and instructed in explosives not at a training camp but at home on the Internet. Their bombs were concocted from inexpensive everyday items whose purchase set off no alarms: pressure cookers, nails and ball bearings, gunpowder from fireworks and remote controls for toys. Their choice of an open-air event meant no gate, metal detector or security inspection to pass through with their bombs.

In other words, as Dzhokhar told investigators, they followed the script from Inspire magazine, which Mr. Khan published in Yemen along with his mentor, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in the same drone strike on Sept. 30, 2011. Mr. Awlaki’s incendiary sermons and Mr. Khan’s training articles survived them on the Web, where the brothers found them.

It seems to me that if terrorists directly follow instructions posted by those who are carrying on Khan's murderous legacy -- someone has to maintain the web site -- and then pull off a "successful" attack, they can hardly be said to have "acted alone." "Acted with active encouragement" is more like it.

And of course, there's the as of yet unexplained role of Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, the Saudi national who was tackled near where the bombs went off.

And there's also information leading to suspicions that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, Katherine Russell might have been fully aware of what the brothers were up to --  or more.

How many more people need to be named before the presumption that the brothers "acted alone" is withdrawn as the official line -- pending the completion of all the law-enforcement legwork?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.