Boston bombs: SA runners remain in US after 'act of terror'

The ANC issued a statement on Tuesday labelling the perpetrators of the twin Boston Marathon bombings 'terrorists'. (AFP)

The ANC issued a statement on Tuesday labelling the perpetrators of the twin Boston Marathon bombings 'terrorists'. (AFP)

The 28 South African athletes who ran the Boston Marathon will remain in the United States for the time being, according to the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco). Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said that while officials were on hand in Boston to assist any South African who wanted to return home following the twin bombings – in which two South Africans were injured – it had received no such request by Tuesday evening.

Monyela added that the two South Africans who sustained injuries were spectators and not runners. He said their injuries were minor. They were treated on the scene and released. The families of the South Africans have also been in touch with Dirco via its 24-hour hotline for updates on the situation.

Dirco officials remain in Boston to assist South Africans as the world waits for an announcement on who was responsible for the bombings, and what action the United States will take.

On Tuesday, the ANC labelled Monday's Boston Marathon bombings an act of "terrorism", a word that US President Barack Obama was cautious about using after the twin bombs detonated but conceded on Tuesday, calling it an "act of terror".

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu issued a statement on behalf of the party on Tuesday calling on the US to do everything in its power to bring to book those responsible for the "terror act".

The bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon were likely heavy, carried to the scene in dark nylon bags, and fashioned out of pressure cookers packed with shrapnel to make them more lethal, authorities said on Tuesday.

"We also call on the world community under the auspices of the United Nations to join hands in the fight against terrorism," Mthembu said. However, analysts agree that Obama's more circumspect rhetoric is appropriate, for now.

In a statement at the White House in the wake of the bombings, Obama ensured the world that the perpetrators of the crimes would feel the full weight of American justice. He left the podium to the sounds of reporters shouting "terrorism?".

Later in the day, the White House committee chair on Homeland Security carefully referred to the attacks as "acts of terror". But even this remark was justified.

Calling a spade a spade
Edward Alden, a Bernard L Shwartz senior fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy in Washington, told the Mail & Guardian that the use of the phrase "act of terror" was simply the White House conservatively calling a spade a spade.

"The president said the things that needed to be said, in particular that this was an act of terror and that the government would do whatever was necessary to find the perpetrators and aid in the recovery," he said.

"Presidents normally make an address following tragedies of this sort, so it was quite normal. The use of the phrase 'act of terror' was simply labelling it what it was – an attack designed to kill and maim innocent people. But we don't yet know anything about the motive," Alden said.

But while Obama may have frustrated those who expected answers from the White House, analysts saw a president who saw an opportunity to preach unity to both Capitol Hill and the country.

"I've updated leaders of Congress in both parties, and we reaffirmed that on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats; we are Americans united in concern for our fellow citizens," Obama told reporters on Monday.

Dr Scott Firsing, head of international relations at Monash University and a former US citizen, agreed.

'Show of unity'
"These types of events tend to unify a nation – as horrible as it is. We've seen phone calls between President Barack Obama and republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Andrew Boehner, in a non-partisan show of unity," he said.

Alden said this approach was expected from Obama, who has consistently called for Republicans and Democrats to work together on issues of national importance.

 "The US has been embroiled internally in a number of partisan debates [gun control, immigration, the budget], and Obama was making the obvious point that both parties will come together in the response to the bombing," Alden noted.

Press spokesperson at the US Embassy in Pretoria, Jack Hillmeyer, said the embassy stood behind Obama's handling of the situation.

"All we can do is echo the president's message. Now is not a time for playing the blame game. It's too early to call on the investigation and we can only hope that the perpetrators of this foul deed are apprehended," Hillmeyer told the M&G.

Right wing US news agency, Fox news, reported that a senior official with insights into the US investigation said officials had ruled out the possibility that the twin bombs were detonated by suicide bombers.

Reports emerged on Tuesday that several small packages were destroyed in controlled explosions, although these turned out not to be explosives. Boston cellphone lines were temporarily cut off in the wake of the bombings, in case bombs were detonated by remote control.

Taliban deny involvement
The Taliban said it supported attacks against the US and its allies, but this time it was not involved.

In the absence of a suspect, Firsing believes the US president was right to steer clear of prematurely talking about terrorism.

"Obama has made a smart move by calming the American public and made measured statements about how this government will respond," he said.

"Nobody wants the terror word thrown out as it will whip up everyone into a frenzy and only add to the chaos."

Alden said the future of the War on Terror hinges on what progress investigators make in the coming days. If the threat is found to be linked to foreign extremism, the US government could respond militarily.

"It depends entirely on the discovery of the perpetrator. If it is domestic, like Timothy McVeigh or the anthrax attacks, it will have little lasting influence other than a general hand-wringing about violence in American society," he said.

"If it is related in some way to al-Qaeda or foreign extremism, it is likely to lead to a further extension of security measures and perhaps a military response of some sort.

"I would expect a ramping up of entry checks at sporting events, perhaps on rail and subways as well. The typical response is to try to devise security measures for the future that would somehow have prevented this attack."

US appeared unfazed
Alden noted that the US appeared unfazed about its image in the eyes of the world in the wake of the attack.

"I do not think investor confidence or the views of the rest of the world will matter greatly here. The 9/11 attacks certainly had some impact on foreign investment, but largely because the US response made it very difficult for several years to travel to the United States. Even with an attack of that scale in the financial capital of the world, there was no general loss of investor confidence," he said.

Firsing agreed that the US' response to the attack will depend on what the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovers in the coming days.

"And no one is pointing fingers at this point. We can only hope that this will continue to unite us, but it all hinges on who is ultimately responsible."

As Washington-based writer for Bloomberg's Businessweek Brendan Greeley observed on Tuesday, "We are biding our time with sadness and awe. But that will end the second we have a name." – Additional reporting by Reuters

Sarah Evans
Nickolaus Bauer

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans is a Mail & Guardian news reporter.She's a recovering musician who became a journalist while interning for the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley.She spent three years reporting there before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane).Her areas of interest include crime, law, governance, and the nexus between business and politics.Her areas of disinterest include skyscrapers.
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  • Nickolaus Bauer

    Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.
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