Whatever is eventually determined – whether the attacks stemmed from affiliation with some terrorist ideology or by something else – officials in cities around the nation are now thinking harder about how to protect against such potential attacks, notably on “soft targets” like an outdoor road race that are difficult to secure.
One answer, already, is stepped-up security measures by law enforcement.
From public events in America this weekend to the running of the London Marathon this Sunday, the presence of law enforcement is greater than it would have been had the Boston attack not occurred. But, although Boston in recent days has seen a dramatic “surge” of police and National Guard troops, limited government budgets and the huge number of soft targets mean that such efforts are an imperfect defense.
Another part of the answer is public vigilance – ordinary people being alert about behavior that raises doubts about the intentions or mental stability of acquaintances. Again, this is an imperfect defense.
Some people who knew 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in school said that he did normal activities like sports and parties. “He was never a troublemaker,” one former teacher said.
The Boston case also coincides with growing public debate about three issues with big implications for prevention of violent crime and terrorism: Gun control, immigration reform, and civil liberties in an era of drones and databases of online information.