Experts skeptical that Boston bomber comes from a domestic terrorist group; Update: Bomber's bag identified in photo?

The “evidence” is thin, but this is so far off the media’s beaten path after attacks that it’s worth reading just for the novelty. When even the SPLC is pooh-poohing the idea of militia activity, you know you’re in uncharted territory.

While some of the factors surrounding the Boston bombings could point to these groups—a simplistic homemade bomb, causing mass casualties, falling on Tax Day—other factors don’t add up. For many of these groups, the date that most matters to them is not Tax Day or Patriots’ Day or even Hitler’s birthday, but the anniversary of the Waco siege… On April 19, 1993, 76 people died when a radical, antigovernment sect’s compound in Texas burnt to the ground after days of firefights with federal officials. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1996, killing 168 people, it fell on the anniversary of the Waco raid, which he cited as a motivation for the attack…

“When you think about it, the target is not clear,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “What the target was not was the government, or the IRS, or a minority group—black people, gay people, Muslims, immigrants, Latinos, and so on. It wasn’t targeted at any sort of specific subgroup.”

Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, agreed, saying this target didn’t feel like the work of extreme right-wing terrorists since it had no clear connection to the government.

“The bottom line is that no domestic extremist movement just based on their ideology alone would have a huge reason to attack the Boston Marathon,” Pitcavage said. “The prominence of the event could cause anybody from a variety of movements to carry out an attack like that.”

But wait. Didn’t Eric Rudolph bomb random civilians at a concert during the Olympics, an event kinda sorta like the Boston Marathon? Sure, says National Journal — but he wasn’t part of a group. Their real argument here, in other words, isn’t that a domestic terrorist didn’t do it, it’s that if one did, he probably wasn’t being sponsored or supported somehow by an organization. (BuzzFeed actually dialed up a few militias this morning and got denunciations of the Boston attack across the board.) Note that well, because if the bomber turns out to be domestic, the idea that he doesn’t represent any larger movement will instantly go straight into the toilet.

Speaking of terrorists and larger movements, a post-attack candygram from our “allies” in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood:

In Arabic, senior Brotherhood leader and the vice chairman of the group’s political party Essam el-Erian took a different tack. In a post on his Facebook page, he condemned the Boston attack — but also linked it to the French war in Mali, the destruction in Syria and Iraq, and faltering rapprochement between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels.

El-Erian is making the case that all of these setbacks — from Boston to Baghdad — are somehow connected. “Who disturbed democratic transformations, despite the difficult transition from despotism, corruption, poverty, hatred, and intolerance to freedom, justice tolerance, development, human dignity, and social justice?” he asked. “Who planted Islamophobia through research, the press, and the media? Who funded the violence?”

El-Erian just poses those questions — he doesn’t accuse any specific group of masterminding the Boston Marathon attack or the unrest across the Middle East.

Interesting that he seems eager to connect the bombing to events in the Middle East rather than scold people for jumping to conclusions about possible connections. Makes sense, though: Jihadis benefit the Brotherhood in two ways, first by providing violent intimidation for the Islamist movement and second by serving as a “bad cop” against whom formally nonviolent “good cop” Islamists like the MB can distinguish themselves. The Brotherhood gets to denounce the attack and use it as a pretext to blather about its grievances, even though there’s no hard evidence pointing to a jihadi pedigree for yesterday’s bombing. Oh, and don’t be shocked when you read the Foreign Policy piece linked above and find that the MB’s English-language statement about the bombings was quite different from this one. They’ve been talking out of both sides of their mouth that way for years, saying one thing in English for the benefit of the suckers in the west and another for the benefit of the locals. Always pay attention to the Arabic version.

Anyway, an interesting question kicking around online today in light of the news about the pressure-cooker IEDs: How much would two six-liter containers packed with nails, BBs, and explosives weigh? The cookers themselves are light (5-7 lbs., per Amazon); my best guess is that each device in total would weigh around 25 lbs. so that’s 50 total, which gives FBI agents who are watching the surveillance video something to look for. News reports today say the bombs were packed in “duffel bags,” but it’s hard to imagine the bomber carrying 50 lbs. of bombs in a single bag by hand without his movements being obviously labored. He could use two bags, one for each bomb, and carry each in a different hand, but that may have required him to pause sporadically if he was walking more than a few blocks. And in any case, having a bag in each hand would make him easy to spot on the tape. It would have been easier for him if in fact he was carrying them in backpacks rather than duffel bags, but a man with two backpacks is also easy to spot. Or, I suppose, he could have jammed both bombs into one very heavy backpack, but in that case how is he planting the first device in the trash can without anyone noticing? He’d have to stop, unzip, lift it out and put it in, which would take several seconds. If he has each device in a separate bag, he can just slide it off his shoulder and drop it in as he’s walking past, in a split second, and hope no one notices. Long story short, there has to be something suspicious to his movements on the tape.

Update: Is this the bag?

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