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Boston Marathon bombs made with pressure cookers: Big break in case?

Reports suggest that the devices in the Boston Marathon bombings were put in pressure cookers. That suggests the bombs were unsophisticated, but experts warn against rushing to judgment.

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One bit of recovered plastic led to the breakthrough in the investigation of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, which was carried out by Libyan intelligence officials under Muammar Qaddafi in 1988. [Editor's note: The timing of the investigation has been corrected.]

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“Evidence was spread over hundreds of square miles, but investigators were able to find a piece of computer circuitry branded into a cell tower,” says Ensalaco. “From there, they traced that piece to Libyan intelligence.”

For that reason, investigators of the Boston Marathon bombings are asking the public to come forward with any evidence from the crime scene and its environs – perhaps a cellphone video taken the day before, a snapshot of friends taken at the Starbucks near the attack’s ground zero, or a recollection of a backpack lying unattended on the sidewalk – no matter how inconsequential the information may seem.

The investigation, which is being led by the FBI but which involves a large number of local, state, and federal agencies, will be looking for the one piece of the mosaic that alone may seem unremarkable, but which, when placed in context, will allow other pieces to fall into place, terrorism experts say.

“We have received voluminous tips in the last 18 hours,” said Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, at a morning news conference in Boston. “We strongly encourage that assistance to continue.”

Also Tuesday morning in Washington, President Obama commented publicly for the second time on the bombings, calling them unequivocally an “act of terror” but cautioning the public that finding the terrorists who committed the act could take time.

“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “What we do not know yet, however, is who carried out this act or why – whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That is what we do not yet know, and clearly we are at the beginning of our investigation.”   

Investigators will be working to crack the case – and reassure a jittery public – as quickly as possible, experts add. But they also note that past experience from other terror attacks will make getting things right as important – or more so – than solving things fast.

The 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics got on the wrong track when a security guard was quickly accused of planting a package bomb. It would be years before the actual bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, a far-right extremist, was caught and brought to justice.

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
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