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The Importance of Training in Terrorism


The situation remains very fluid in Watertown, where one Boston Marathon bombing suspect is dead and another is now the subject of a massive manhunt. The terrorists appear to have killed one MIT security officer and wounded an MBTA policeman — they reportedly fired guns, attempted to detonate explosives while they were being pursued, and one or both may be armed with an explosive vest, indicating a determination not to be taken alive. This NBC News report is an excellent summary of what has transpired overnight.

There seem to have been wildly inaccurate claims circulating on the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook in particular, about the identities of the terrorists. This highlights the importance of not getting out in front of what we actually know: If you are hoping to draw major lessons out of what has happened, getting the basic facts wrong is going to undermine that cause, even if the lessons are valid. Even if government agencies know the identities of the terrorists, they are not yet releasing that information. The only thing they seem to be consistently saying at this point is that the terrorists received training overseas (by what terrorist organization or individuals has not been disclosed) and have been in our country, legally, for about a year. Fox News reported (at 6:55 a.m.) that the terrorists are brothers from Chechnya.

Putting aside the question of what ideology motivates these particular terrorists — something we will presumably know soon enough — the recurring feature of terrorism that appears to be emerging here is the importance of training. As observed here numerous times over the years, training tends to be the difference between success and failure for terrorists. Those who are trained are competent and lethal; those who are not may plot spectacular attacks but generally cannot pull them off and often make amateur mistakes that result in their detection long before they can act. This is why, as we’ve argued here for many years, the federal laws prohibiting material support to terrorism excluding trained foreign terrorists from entry into the United States are crucial to our security.


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