Terrorism in the 21st century is recognized as a growing worldwide threat. And last week’s attacks in Paris resonated in Boston, which is still recovering from the psychic wounds of the Marathon Bombings.
On the Boston Common—the historic intersection of public life in this city— police in greater numbers than usual are patrolling in squad cars and on motorcycles. This week Marsha Minasian of Canton was crossing the Common in route to a rally in support of the people of Paris. She echoed what many other visitors here described as the new normal.
“We don’t worry on a day to day basis. We try to be careful but these are different times. I don’t think anybody really knows what to expect.”
Jean Lesieur, a Native Parisian who now lives in Cambridge, was at the the same rally.
“I don’t feel any safer in Boston than Paris,” said Lesieur. “You can’t be totally secure. And so Boston, any democratic society, is exposed to blind attacks like that.”
And blind, unexpected terrorist assaults, is what Boston is preparing for said Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans. Evans said while there are no credible threats to the city, Boston is keeping up its guard.
“What happened in France I don’t know how they operated under the radar screen but we take this threat daily very seriously, and we know, unfortunately, what a world we live in, and there's threats like ISIS out there.”
Evans said that Boston and State police have increased patrols and surveillance of multiple sites including the French library, Logan airport, public museums, colleges and universities, concerts and plays.
“And you’re going to see us being visible in and around the city, obviously at transportation centers and sporting events.”
In light of the attack on the Stade de France, the soccer stadium in Paris, the National Football League over the weekend instituted new security measures inside and outside of sports arenas, including Gillette in Foxborough.
At MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where the Patriots played the Giants to a standstill, spectators were checked at entrances, but also in parking lots, where tail-gators were asked to open car trunks, coolers and bags for inspection. Fans of the Bruins and Celtics should expect to see a heavier security presence for games at TD Garden.
Boston’s security concerns are driven by the lessons of the Boston marathon bombings. The Tsarnaev brothers were lone wolves, not organized terrorists. International terror groups have never struck Boston, but the city has every reason to be concerned says Veryann Khan, editorial director of TRAC— an anti-terrorism research group:
“Because so many reported cases of terrorist recruits or terrorist plots or terrorist sympathizers were coming out of the Boston region.”
Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force or JTTF shot suspect Usaamah Abdullah Rahim on a street in Roslindale in June after he allegedly lunged at them with a large military-style knife.
The JTTF had intercepted cell phone messages between Rahim and others about a plot to behead police officers and a well-known anti-Islamic right-wing activist. There have been four cases of suspected ISIS recruits in just the last year in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In the past when radical Islamic groups and individuals struck western targets, mainstream Muslims across the U.S. have been assaulted in what the FBI has described as hate crimes. With that in mind Boston police commissioner Evans told reporters:
“We’ve done a lot of outreach over the last two days to a lot of our partners, both in and around the city as well as the Islamic Center that is located across the street. We're watching for threats out there, both against them and against anyone that might feel threatened."
Yusufi Vali is the director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. I caught up with him on Sunday as he rushed out to join a rally on the Boston Common in support of the people of France. He said he appreciates the beefed up police presence outside this mosque, the largest in New England.
“My experience of Boston has just been that we’re a city that stands together. And as an example of that right after things happened in Paris the BPD reached out and said ‘are you guys getting any threats, you have any concerns?’
On the main avenue outside the mosque a police scout car passed by, slowly. A Muslim man wearing a skullcap waved. The officer behind the wheel waved back.
“And so we just feel very protected here, and this city is one,” said Vali.
Vali added that “the greatest security is guaranteed when Bostonians of all faiths come together” But the JTTF is also working around the clock monitoring social media, cell phones and internet chatter to try to prevent in Boston what happened in Paris, which Commissioner Evans said is no longer unimaginable.