According to the latest reports, the bomb that detonated in Manhattan on Saturday night and another found nearby used a pressure-cooker design similar to that used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. That design was taken, according to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself, from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language online magazine Inspire. San Bernardino, California, shooters Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook had also prepared similar bombs, though never ended up using them.
The devices even used Christmas lights to trigger the explosions, just like the Boston bomb and just as Inspire advised in its first issue in 2010, under the now-infamous headline, “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” The pipe bomb that detonated in New Jersey earlier on Saturday was of a different design, involving a pipe, which is another one of Inspire’s suggestions. We don’t know much yet about the specific ideological motivations of the bomber, but at this point it seems likely that he was at least tactically guided by Inspire, the brainchild of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Awlaki and Inspire’s editor Samir Khan were killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. In life, the New Mexico native was linked to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner the same year, and the attempt to bring down two U.S.-bound cargo planes, also in 2009.
But creating Inspire may turn out to be his most enduring act. In addition to the bombing instructions, as well as putting the victims of the AQAP-linked Charlie Hebdo shooting on a hit list, Inspire provided guidance on many of the tactics that have become staples of “lone wolf” terror attacks in the West. For instance, Inspire had suggested attackers ram vehicles into crowded open-air gatherings, years before the idea was used to deadly effect in Nice, France, earlier this year.
In its debut issue, the same one with the bomb-making instructions, Inspire suggested its readers in the West engage in “open source Jihad,” carrying out attacks in their own countries using materials at hand rather than taking on the risks of international travel or formally linking up with an international organization.
Osama Bin Laden may have created the template for the modern Jihadist movement, and ISIS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have revolutionized it by creating a territorial pseudo-state, but when it comes to the daily terrorist threats in Western countries, Awlaki’s influence is the strongest.