Terrorism Expert Weighs In On Monday's Bombing In Boston

Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman talks to David Greene about the implications of what's known about the issues involving the Boston Marathon bombing. Hoffman is the director of the Center for Security Studies and director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There's so much we do not know about the Boston Marathon bombing, but here are some things that we do know. Police have focused on two suspects who were found on video images from the scene of the bombing. They chased those two young men last night, shot it out with them. A police officer is dead. A police officer is wounded in the Boston area. One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is reported killed, a second one still at large, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, both of them described as being from Chechnya.

We've been talking all morning about that Chechnyan connection, but next, we need to bring you a word of caution.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And that word of caution comes from a terrorism expert named Bruce Hoffman. He's the director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.

Mr. Hoffman, good morning to you.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Good morning.

GREENE: So, we've been hearing a lot more about these suspects, that they're from Chechnya. And I guess, you know, there's a lot in Chechnya that we can talk about - history, religion. But there's a concern about making too many generalizations about two brothers who come from this republic. Talk to us about that.

HOFFMAN: Well, yes. Well, firstly, look, this situation is completely different than it was 24 hours ago. So one has to, you know, also reflect how different it could in another 24 hours or longer, when we know more.

No, my point would be is that, you know, as a colleague who's well-versed in North Caucasus politics pointed out to me, that the term Chechen is often a grab-bag term used for people from, you know, all over the north, the North Caucasus.

GREENE: Which includes other republics of Russia, Ingushetia, Dagestan.

HOFFMAN: Precisely. What I'm finding so interesting this morning is that yesterday, the assumption was this was homegrown, perhaps domestic, lone-wolf. This - the idea that now this has a potential foreign connection is really something very different. And the reason I say that is twice over the past eight months, very significant plots have been disrupted in both France and in Spain, involving persons from Chechnya, from Dagestan - in other words, from North Caucasian states...

GREENE: Uh-huh.

HOFFMAN: ...plotting terrorist attacks, including against - it's suspected - the U.S. Naval base at Rota in Spain, but attacks against Gibraltar, a British possession, during the last summer's Olympics. And at least one of the questions we have to ask is - given that this is now become less homegrown and more foreign - is, you know, does, tragically, the Boston Marathon fit into this pattern that we've seen over the past eight months - or at least these two incidents, I should say, not a pattern.

GREENE: This other plots being, perhaps, planned in places like Chechnya.

HOFFMAN: Precisely. And that's - right. And that's worrisome, that all the sudden, a region of the world that was seen to be mostly an internal Russian problem and a state problem may now have become much more transnational. And, of course, at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are strained and the sort of cooperation that might have existed a decade ago with the dawn of the war on terrorism has certainly been frayed.

GREENE: Sure. But - you - it does sound like, though, we should not jump to too many conclusions quite yet. I mean, this is a very unfamiliar place to a lot of Americans, as you've said, and we only know over the last few hours that this is where these two young men are from.

HOFFMAN: Right. And the description of Chechen may not be the most accurate one. It may prove to be so, but as I said, it's a grab - it's a catch-all phrase.

GREENE: Do you think that knowing that they are from Chechnya in any way changes the perception that we have of threats here, as Americans, and where threats might come from?

HOFFMAN: Well, unfortunately, it raises more possibilities than we might have wished to consider, you know, over the past week, in that, you know, how were these two individuals recruited and radicalized, if indeed they were. They may have been self-radicalized, they may not have.

I think the question that we heard earlier when you were interviewing their aunt is whether the older brother may have traveled overseas. And that may have provided the opportunity or venue for his radical...

GREENE: Sure. And we should say, this is one of their - a friend's aunt that was talking to us about the two of them. Look forward to talking to you more.

Bruce Hoffman is director of Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. Thanks so much for talking to us, sir.

HOFFMAN: Sure.

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