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Marathon terrorism

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The attack on the iconic Boston Marathon sent shock waves throughout the nation as Americans are reminded once again of our vulnerability to hate-filled extremists.

In a matter of seconds, a celebration turned to horror. Two explosions in a well-coordinated attack near the finish line of the 26-mile race killed three persons, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded more than 140, many of whom were in critical condition.

An initial explosion that knocked runners to the ground, scattered spectators and drew emergency responders to the scene to help the wounded and dying was followed a few seconds later by a second blast about 100 yards away.

Reacting to the mayhem, the chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, said, “This is what we expect from war.”

Dazed and shocked Americans wonder how this could have happened amidst the heightened security since 9-11. The perpetrator or perpetrators carefully planned and selected a symbolic and vulnerable target sure to result in mass casualties.

The Boston Marathon attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and runners from all over the world to celebrate a Massachusetts holiday, Patriots Day, an annual event that commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution at Concord and Lexington in 1775. Providing security for the 26-mile race — double that for both sides of the route through the city — is a formidable challenge.

However, the explosions prompted Boston and other American and foreign cities to bolster security at major sporting events as a precaution.

By some accounts, the carnage could have been worse had it come earlier in the race. By the time the bombs detonated more than four hours after the start of the race, 17,000 of the 26,000 runners had crossed the finish line and spectators lining both sides of the course had begun to disperse, many to greet the runners.

Although the attacks bore some similarity to terrorist-style bombings in other countries, it would be premature to blame foreign groups or suicide bombers as the investigation unfolds.

The bombings could be the work of homegrown terrorists. No one immediately claimed responsibility. One man was taken into custody for questioning, but no charges have been lodged, so care must be taken not to overreact.

President Obama in his remarks Monday night cautioned against jumping to conclusions “before we have all the facts” as he pledged, “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

“We will find out who did this. We will find out why they did this,” the president said.

Outraged and angry Americans pray for and grieve with the victims and their families as we all await answers to those questions with a renewed vigilance and determination that those responsible will be brought to justice.

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