Marathons as 'soft targets' for terrorists? Why panic isn't warranted.
Boston Marathon bombings are prompting officials of other marathons to review security plans. That's a good thing, say experts, but concerns that terrorists might single out marathons are unfounded.
A marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards – a lot of territory to secure to prevent anything like the bomb attack that killed three people and injured at least 150 more, almost all spectators, near the finish line of Monday's Boston Marathon.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Learning from the Boston Marathon bombings
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In the wake of Monday's tragedy, though, marathon organizers in cities around the US are taking a closer look at their security arrangements, mindful that the very nature of the course – a completely unenclosed path through diverse neighborhoods, over bridges, through wooded areas – poses challenges perhaps unrivaled by any other sporting event. Some even worry that marathons will become favorite targets for would-be attackers.
The upshot? “It would be impossible to have security and police on every part of the race. There is no way to screen people who are watching it,” says Jeremy Jordan, an associate professor and director of the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It is very uncontrolled.”
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The number of terror incidents at marathons is relatively few – seven around the world since 1994 (not including Monday's attack in Boston), according to the University of Maryland’s Terrorism Data Base. Total fatalities were 15 – all at one event in Sri Lanka – plus 90 people injured in total at the seven races.
Terrorists are “opportunists” who look for ways to cause a lot of casualties and bring attention to their attacks, says terrorism expert Frank Cillufo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. He does not believe they are now singling out marathons as targets.
“I think we put too much emphasis on specific events,” he says. “At this point, we are at a disadvantage since we don’t know their motive and ideology” in the Boston case.
Nevertheless, marathon aficionados are disturbed over the prospect that their events might routinely become terrorist targets.
It's not just that the races are open to spectators and have easy access. It's also that terrorists may perceive that they are striking at a collective expression of achievement, endurance, mutual support, and good will, some say. Many runners, after all, compete on behalf of charities, raising millions for worthy causes. And as Mr. Jordan says, marathons are nothing short of "celebrations of the human spirit," as runners set tough goals and then reach them.