New Policy Memo: The Boston Bombings: A Post-Qaeda Take on “Lone Wolves” and “Leaderless Jihad”

19 Jul 2013

Any immediate or early comments on major terrorist attacks, such as the April 2013 Boston marathon bombings, are bound to be highly speculative. They may actually add to the general confusion rather than help dispel it. At times, they may even become part of the very political mayhem that is one of the main intended outcomes of a terrorist attack. There are some aspects, however, that can be seriously analyzed at any stage, such as the political effects of an attack domestically and internationally; in relation to the Boston bombings, for example, one can follow the stream of impacts on U.S.-Russia bilateral relations. Another aspect that can be examined is to place an attack in the context of other acts—in the Boston case, where it stands in relation to other homegrown jihadist terrorist acts committed by single actors  or cells in the West, particularly in the United States where such incidents have displayed a clear spike over the past 3-4 years. To what extent do the Boston bombings fit into the broader trends of jihadist terrorism in the West? Do they conform to the so-called “leaderless resistance” paradigm? How do they fit into the more general patterns of single actor attacks in the United States? This memo concludes that the attack by the Tsarnaev brothers is likely to be categorized not as a “lone wolf”-type incident but as an act by a solo cell that behaved on its own initiative even though it had some external connections.

The Boston Bombings, A Post-Qaeda Take on “Lone Wolves” and “Leaderless Jihad”
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 268
by Ekaterina Stepanova
July 2013

View the Policy Memo (PDF)