The Corner

National Security & Defense

Why Is It So Unreasonable to Suspect Terrorism After an Explosion?

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Donald Trump got enormous grief from the national media for his declaration at a Colorado rally Saturday night, “just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and no one knows exactly what’s going on.”

(The media had much less consternation about Hillary Clinton’s declaration about an hour or two later that, “I’ve been briefed about the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the attacks in Minnesota.”)

Yes, Trump spoke before the public or authorities knew for certain that the explosion was a bomb. Yes, it could have been a gas leak, or some other accident. And yes, there’s a significant difference between you and me hearing the news and saying, “I’ll bet it was a bomb,” and a presidential candidate stating it as fact before anyone knows for sure.

But let’s observe that when we hear about a large explosion in Manhattan on a Saturday night, injuring lots of people, it’s not unreasonable to think, that’s the sort of thing a terrorist would want to do.

I remember in the first hour or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, when the first reports of the second explosion came in, someone on television – it might have been a sportscaster, not used to covering a live mass casualty event (as if anyone is) – saying something like, ‘how awful it is to have two gas explosions not far apart on the day of the Boston marathon!’

Yes, in fact the odds against two separate gas explosions just happening to occur during the marathon route on the day of the marathon are astronomical. When something sudden and awful happens in circumstances that maximize casualties, it’s not irresponsible to suspect foul play or a deliberate act. An explosion at 3 a.m. when the streets are empty is less likely to be terrorism. An explosion on 8:30 on a Saturday night? It’s fair to start thinking about those worst-case scenarios.

The media really wanted to make Trump’s declaration a major mistake. But Trump’s gut reaction turned out to be right. A person might be quicker to suspect terrorism if he had heard about the Seaside Park, New Jersey pipe bomb, another explosion in a public place that targeted innocent people, earlier that day. And by the time of the report of a second device being found, calling it a bombing was perfectly reasonable.

Yet late Saturday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to be terrified of using the “t” word:

An explosion that rocked Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood and injured at least 29 people appears to have been “an intentional act” — but not related to terrorism, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The cause of the explosion has not been determined, said New York City police commissioner James O’Neill. The explosion, which seriously injured at least one person, happened on West 23rd Street late Saturday in an area frequented by shoppers and diners.

“New York City experienced a very bad incident,” de Blasio said at a news conference. “We have no credible and specific threat at this moment.”

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