Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston terror suspects identified

The FBI has released photos of two suspects it wants to identify as part of the investigation into Monday's Boston Marathon bombings [FBI].

CCTV captured the two men, one wearing a dark-coloured baseball cap and the other a white cap, near the scene. Video of at least one suspect planting the bomb is said to exist according to an official who spoke to CNN. However the FBI have chosen not to release the footage fearing that should the media repeatedly show the suspects leaving the bomb some members of the public might overreact should they came into contact with them. Meanwhile FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers warned members of the public not to approach the two men saying they were considered to be armed and extremely dangerous [CNN / BBC / Sky News].

Suspects watched carnage

The identification of the suspects comes less than 5 days into the investigation with teams of forensic officers pouring over thousands of images and hours or video. According to reports the suspects callously stayed to watch the grim events unfolding following the two explosions.

Footage, still unreleased, shows the two suspects watching the carnage unfold, a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN's Susan Candiotti. "When the bombs blow up, when most people are running away and victims were lying on the ground, the two suspects walk away pretty casually," said the official, who has seen the unreleased video. "They acted differently than everyone else."

Reaction to Boston attack

Reaction to the terrorist attack which took three lives and injured more than 170 others has been one of shock. However there have been some who gloated or suggested America deserved the attacks.

In China, a significant minority of netizens suggested that the US was merely being punished for its military intervention around the world. Netizen 陈�cm commented, “Because of US intrusion or invasion, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria all suffer from explosions and attacks every so often. If the US keeps messing around, terrorist attacks targeted at the US will only increase. No matter how soon and well the US media do the reporting, it’s still the ordinary American people who are paying back.” Another netizen 矢口一厅 commented, “The US is asking for troubles and fight-backs by imposing its values onto others.”

Of course such views, while numerous, were far fewer than the outpourings of grief expressed by the Chinese especially as they learned that one of their own citizens had died in the blasts [OffBeatChina / VoA / Washington Post / The Diplomat].

There were other displays of bad taste or inappropriately posted articles however. Xinhua, China’s state news agency, posted a picture essay on its front page on the same day as the Boston attacks entitled: “File photos: Horrible scenes in 9/11 terrorist attacks”

The 9/11 picture essay story ran as 8th while the Boston attack was the lead story, in what could only perhaps be described as bad timing or insensitive reporting.

Chinese victim

Initially the identity of the third victim remained clouded in mystery with Boston University only confirming that one of their students had perished and several others were injured. However, a provincial newspaper in China soon tracked down the family who confirmed their daught had been lost in the blasts [Telegraph / D Mail / CNN].

While Xinhua’s dredging up the past with its reporting of 9/11 was somewhat inappropriate, there were some striking similarities that could be drawn from the two events. Whoever perpetrated the attacks did not divide a nation. Instead it brought a nation, and the world, together. And just as with 9/11 the attacks struck at all sections of society. Both the old and the young were either injured or killed. Furthermore the attacks affected people from different ethnic and religious groups as well as different races.

It brought home the sad truth that terrorism can strike anywhere, and affect anyone. But there was also many positives coming from the tragedy. There were tales of heroism, if individuals putting themselves at risk to save others. The events also showed how both professionals and ordinary civilians came together to help the injured. The openness of media and the way technology was used to help find people was also marked.

Chinese reflection

Such things appeared to impress many Chinese netizens watching from afar, who used the incident to criticise their own authorities. “Three hours after the Boston bombing, news websites and TV channels are streaming live news – there is no ban on news reporting. Local police held a press conference immediately – quick reaction plus transparent information and thus there is no rumor or panic. Google released Person Finder; the public offered help for those runners who are from outside of Boston or the country; thousands of people left their contact information. In the face of a severe situation, the government, the media, companies and individuals all work together smoothly. It’s something we ought to learn,” wrote 假装在纽约 on the microblogging site Weibo.

Lessons for a free society

Whether such events as seen in Boston change the way other governments deal with their own domestic tragedies remains to be seen. Openness and transparency can bring about undesired consequences. Government can receive unwanted criticism and be brought to book for misdemeanours. Yet there are huge benefits especially in the face of such attacks seen this week. With so many people freely filming and taking pictures and posting them to Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other social networks, there was no shortage of evidence enabling police to track down the terror suspects.

While terror attacks in China are rare, they do occur. And gathering evidence is far more difficult especially photographic evidence. CCTV, while growing, is not as commonplace as seen in many western cities, and while cell phones are common controversial material posted to the web is often expunged by censors. In such cases important evidence could be deleted before being brought to the attention of authorities. A growing distrust between citizens and the authorities may also impede any investigation since some members of the public might prefer not to get involved, deleting important images of failing to provide them to police.

A free society does not guarantee safety. Neither does a state run system. However a free and open society offers far greater hope in bringing perpetrators of such acts as seen this week to justice.

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

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