At least three people were dead and more than 140 injured after two “coordinated” explosions ripped through a tightly-packed section of bystanders and runners near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, according to the latest available figures.
The explosions, which were captured on video here and carried by numerous news channels, occurred at approximately 2:45 pm local time, several hours after a few of the marathon’s nearly 27,000 runners began crossing the finish line.
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed on the explosions at 4 pm. In a statement he said he is sending his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “deepest thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims in the wake of this senseless loss”.
‘Full weight of justice’
While he admitted that his administration’s officials “do not know who did this or why,” and “people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts,” he promised, “We will get to the bottom of this… Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”
Videos from the finish line showed people screaming “Oh my god, oh my god,” runners being knocked to the ground by the force of the blast, and a large cloud of white smoke and debris near a line of world flags along the runners’ path. Ambulance and police sirens could also be heard wailing and police officers on the spot could be seen drawing their guns.
According to the Associated Press “bloody spectators were being carried to a medical tent that had been set up to care for tired runners.” The injury toll was rising steadily and already at above 110 by 7pm. Victims were being brought in to Massachusetts General Hospital, where six patients were said to be critical, the Tufts Medical Centre and other area hospitals.
Shortly after the first two explosions, reports said that a third explosion was heard, and noted that a controlled explosion had been carried out by law enforcement. The Boston Police Department (BPD) spokesperson Cheryl Fiandaca confirmed “A third incident at JFK library,” adding on Twitter: “Not certain related- but BPD treating like they are.” Later it emerged that the third event, at Boston’s JFK Library, was an unrelated fire incident.
Mr. Obama also said that he had been in close contact with Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and “They’re mobilising the appropriate resources to investigate and to respond.” Further, he said, he had spoken with to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
Meanwhile several reports, including by the Boston Globe, suggested that police recovered at least one more unexploded devices, possibly from a trash can. ABC news said that a federal law enforcement authority confirmed that “this was an intentional bombing, using small portable explosive devices.”
Copley Square, near the finish line, was said to have been closed. Still photographs of the moment of the explosion showed a momentary ball of fire roaring through a part of the audience. Another photograph showed a blackened facade of a Starbucks Coffee store nearby, possibly burnt in the blast.
Meanwhile Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick described the explosions as “horrific,” saying on Twitter, “We are currently in contact with federal, state and city officials.” The Department of Homeland Security said it would offer “whatever assistance” was required.
Authorities announced heightened security measures across New York and Washington following the news of the explosions. John Boehner, House of Representatives Speaker, said that flags would fly at half-staff over Capitol Hill and other federal government buildings “out of respect for the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy.”
The Federal Aviation Authority said that it had issued a temporary flight restriction over the area of the explosion and “ground stop” for Boston airport. While the no-fly zone over the area remained in force, the traffic stoppage at Logan International Airport was lifted within a few hours on Monday evening.
Speaking to media, the Boston Police Commissioner said that there had been no prior knowledge of a threat to the marathon. Ms. Fiandaca noted that BPD were checking the area for packages and “stabilising the situation.”
Although an official speaking to AP was quoted saying that cell phone services had been shut down in the Boston area “to prevent any potential remote detonations of explosives,” reports quoting mobile phone operators said that the latter had simply been overwhelmed by traffic.
The media in some cases got ahead of itself in reporting the breaking story on the explosions. One report in the New York Post said that a “Saudi national who suffered shrapnel wounds in today’s blast” has been identified as “a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.” However, the BPD denied that any suspects were taken into custody, with one official saying, “Honestly, I don’t know where they’re getting their information from, but it didn’t come from us.”
Similarly CNN alluded to the event being a “terror attack” a full two hours or more before unnamed officials were quoted as confirming that that was the case. Mr. Obama did not use the term “terror attack” at all. However within a few hours Bill Keating, Congressman of Massachusetts, was quoted saying it was a “sophisticated, coordinated, planned attack.”