Two explosions hit Boston Marathon finish line, at least 2 killed

Two explosions hit the Boston Marathon as runners crossed the finish line on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring 23 on a day when tens of thousands of people pack the streets to watch one of the world's best known marathons.

Pictures from the scene showed blood stains on the ground and several people knocked down. Massachusetts General Hospital was treating victims of the explosion in its emergency room but information about their condition was not immediately available, a spokeswoman said.

Police reported at least one explosion and witnesses said there were two, which hit as spectators were cheering on people finishing the Boston Marathon, which was first run in 1897.

Reporters in the media center heard two blasts.

Boston police said two people were killed and 23 injured.

Scores of people, some bloody, wandered the streets around the finish line, though their numbers were thinning as police, some carrying heavy weaponry, tried to clear the area and a pungent smell hung in the air.

Mike Mitchell of Vancouver, Canada, a runner who had finished the race, said he was looking back at the finish line and saw a “massive explosion.”

Smoke rose 50 feet (15 metres) in the air, Mitchell said. People began running and screaming after hearing the noise, Mitchell said.

“Everybody freaked out,” Mitchell said.

Ambulances, fire trucks and dozens of police vehicles converged at the finish line.

U.S. President Barack Obama was notified and directed his administration to provide whatever assistance was necessary, the White House said.

“Blood everywhere, victims carried out on stretchers. I saw someone lose their leg, people are crying,” the Boston Globe's Steve Silva reported from the citing, the Globe said on Twitter.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators typically line the 26.2 mile (42.19 km) race course, with the heaviest crowds near the finish line. The blasts occurred more than five hours after the start of the race, at a time when most top athletes were off the course but slower amateur marathoners were still running.

The transit agency shut down all service to the area, citing police activity.

Ambulances arrived on the scene within minutes and runners and spectators could be seen crying and consoling each other.

The Boston Marathon has been held on Patriots Day, the third Monday of April, since 1897. The event, which starts in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and ends Boston's Copley Square, attracts an estimated half-million spectators and some 20,000 participants every year.

Earlier on Monday, Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa and Kenya's Rita Jeptoo won the men's and women's events, continuing African runners' dominance in the sport.

The New York Police Department stepped up security around landmarks in Manhattan, including near prominent hotels, in response reports out of Boston, said Paul Browne, deputy commissioner of the NYPD.

New York police were redeploying counterterrorism vehicles around the city, Browne said.

Reporting by Scott Malone, Tim McLaughlin, Edith Honan, Frank McGurty and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool

Bombings Bolster Commitment to Life

As if mocking the scenes of jubilation at London’s successful 2012 Olympics bid, the terrorist explosions that came the next day left devastation in their wake.

In all our synagogues, British Jews are joining our prayers with those of others, grieving for the dead, praying for the injured and sharing our tears with those of the bereaved (see story, page 14).

Terror has become the scourge of our age, and it will take all our inner strength to cope with it. I have met far too many victims of terror: survivors of the Istanbul synagogue bombing in 2003 and the 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires; in Israel, where almost everyone knows someone who has been affected, as well as survivors of the massacres in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo.

Like others, I have wept for the broken families and shattered lives and the injuries, physical and psychological, that may never heal.

But I have wept also at the courage of the victims. Each year, I go with a group to perform concerts for people who have suffered terrorist attacks. One we met was an 11-year-old boy who had lost his mother, father and three other members of his family in a suicide bombing. He himself had lost his sight.

In the hospital ward, the boy sang with the choir a hauntingly beautiful religious song. We had gone to give him strength; instead, he gave us strength.

Terror fails and will always fail, because it arouses in us a profound instinct for life. Will we ever forget the heroism of the New York firefighters on Sept. 11, or the courage of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 or the kindness of strangers who brought comfort to the traumatized survivors?

Terror makes us vigilant in defense of what we otherwise take for granted: the sanctity of life, the importance of freedom and the countless natural restraints that allow us to live together in safety and trust.

Free societies are always stronger than their enemies take them to be. Enemies of the West mistake its openness for vulnerability, its tolerance for decadence, its respect for differences for a lack of moral conviction.

Britain has exceptionally strong links of friendship among its different faiths and ethnic communities. That is a vital source of stability when nerves are frayed and fears aroused. London itself has a long history of courage. That, too, was evident in the calm that prevailed on July 7.

The best response to terror is not anger, but the quiet strength to carry on, not giving way to fear. I think of Judea Pearl, father of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who has become a campaigner for deeper understanding between Islam and the West. When I asked him what motivated him, he replied, “Hate killed my son, and you cannot defeat hate by hate.”

I think of one of the most promising young men our community has produced, 19-year-old Yoni Jesner, who was killed in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing. His family, out of deep religious conviction, donated his organs to save lives — among them a 7-year-old Palestinian girl who had waited two years for a kidney transplant.

Michael Walzer, a leading American political theorist, has written, “Terrorists are like killers on a rampage, except that their rampage is not just expressive of rage or madness; the rage is purposeful and programmatic.”

Its victims, deliberately, are the innocent and the uninvolved: workers in an office, passengers on a train, passersby on a pavement. Its aim is fear. It advances no interest. It has no conceivable claim to justice. It dishonors any cause it claims to represent.

The real answer to terror was enacted in London and elsewhere five days before. Millions of people took to the streets and parks to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of poverty in Africa. Their methods were peaceful, their weapons were song and celebration, and their greatest strength was the justice of their cause.

The people with whom they were identifying — the hundreds of millions of children who lack food, shelter, clean water and medical facilities, sustenance and hope — have never resorted to terror to bring their plight to the attention of the world, nor did they need to.

The choice humanity faces was set out long ago by Moses: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

The strongest answer to the forces of death is a renewed commitment to the sanctity of life.

This column first ran in the Times of London on July 9, 2005.

Sir Jonathan Sacks is Orthodox chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth and associate president of the Conference of European Rabbis.


Competing Voices

Last Rosh Hashana began with the most terrible noise. Terror, trauma, tragedy and evil triumphant filled the air. In addition, Israel and Jews worldwide were subjected to the vilest outburst of anti-Semitism since the 1940s.

After experiencing such violent explosions, where can we find a glimmer of hope for the year ahead?

Perhaps an answer can be found in the laws for sounding the shofar, the primary symbol of the New Year festival.

The Talmud in Rosh Hashana 27b states: "If one places a shofar within a shofar and blows, if the inner one is heard, he fulfills the mitzvah, but if the outer one [is heard], he does not."

How should we understand this law? Is it simply a legal concept, or does it hold a moral lesson as well?

In today’s climate, besieged by the voices of chaos, war and hatred, transmitted to us by a biased media, it is difficult to imagine that there can even be a soft inner voice of morality, honesty and justice.

The current chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a survivor from Buchenwald, was 8 when the camp was liberated. He maintains friendships with many survivors. One, a very wealthy man, is also the thinnest man the rabbi had ever seen.

On one occasion, his friend invited the rabbi to a delicious dinner, but the friend barely ate. He only nibbled at the food. Worrying that his friend might be ill, the rabbi finally asked why he wasn’t eating. The man replied, "Every time I sit down to a beautiful meal, I hear a voice in my head. It is my 12-year-old daughter who died of starvation in Auschwitz. She comes to me and says three words in Yiddish: "Father, please, bread." In Auschwitz I couldn’t give her that bread, and now when I want to eat, I hear the sound of her voice and I can’t eat."

We all hear voices. One comes from the harsh, cruel outside world. It is strong and powerful; it blasts our ears; it seems to conquer us. But then we hear a second voice, a quiet voice, an inner voice, urging us to have courage, to support our people, to stand by Israel, to obliterate terror.

The Talmud, in discussing the shofar, also makes another profound and telling observation. It states the principle, "That two voices cannot be heard simultaneously." But then the Talmud includes an exception: "If it is beloved and dear, one concentrates and hears."

We are constantly subjected to two voices that compete for our attention. Which sounds shall we hear — the loud clamor of the evil-doers, the terrorists and their supporters? Or the still, small voice of the heroes — the firefighters in the twin towers, the rescue workers at a suicide bombing, the pain-filled voices of those slaughtered at Auschwitz and those massacred at a Passover seder in Netanya?

At first you might think that the loud voice will win, and the soft voice will definitely lose. The loud voice seems so powerful; it seems to conquer all. But if the soft voice is the voice of God, if it is beloved, it will be heard and ultimately will be victorious.

Simon Wiesenthal relates that when he was imprisoned in concentration camp, he once saw a fellow inmate risk his life to smuggle a siddur into the camp. At first, Wiesenthal admired this man. But then, the next day, to his horror, he saw that man rent out the siddur in exchange for pieces of bread.

Wiesenthal recounts, "I was angry with this Jew. How could he take a holy siddur and use it to take a person’s last piece of bread?" From that moment on, he vowed never to pray again.

After the liberation, he explained his lack of faith to Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the famous U.S. Army chaplain, who had come to comfort survivors. In response, Silver asked, "Why do you look at the Jew who rented out his siddur? Why don’t you look at the dozens who gave up their bread in order to use a siddur? That’s faith! That’s the true power of the siddur."

Wiesenthal concluded, "When he said that, I walked together with him to pray."

Which voice are we going to hear? The laws of the shofar are there to guide us, to tell us if we listen to the inner voice of our conscience, we will find the right path for the coming year.