Internet vigilantes speculate as authorities identify Boston bombing suspect in CCTV footage

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Video from department store close to second explosion appeared to show person 'dropping a black bag'

Washington

In a potentially vital first breakthrough, investigators were said to have identified a suspect in Monday's double bombing of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170 others in America's bloodiest terrorist incident since the 9/11 attacks.

A law enforcement source said officials had "made a clear identification of a potential suspect" using CCTV video footage taken from the Lord & Taylor department store near the location of the second explosion, according to CNN.

An image of a potential suspect "carrying, and perhaps dropping, a black bag" at the scene of the second bombing on Boylston Street had been obtained by authorities, the Boston Globe reported. The development came as federal and local investigators pored over the twisted fragments of a pressure cooker, shards of metal shrapnel, shreds of nylon, and thousands upon thousands of photos and video clips, to track down the author of the attacks.

Simultaneously, a picture was emerging of the two fairly primitive devices – widely sold pressure cookers, loaded with gunpowder, nails, ball-bearings and shrapnel, and detonated by simple timers, rather than by remote control.

The home-made bombs appear to have been carried in nylon backpacks or bags, which were left along the closing stretch of the race.

As news of the CCTV footage emerged, internet users began attempting to take the law into their own hands, with a group posting a 57-picture album on website imgur.com featuring  people wearing black backpacks.

On social news site Reddit, one group had more than 100 threads speculating on CCTV images. However, one user cautioned against users taking matters into their own hands.

"We do not condone vigilante justice. Our aim is simply to provide tips for the FBI, not to take matters into our own hands," a user known as Rather_Confused said in a posting. "While it’s admirable to help, posting information on anyone noted in pictures could have a devastating effect on their life."

Adding to the tension across the nation, the Secret Service in Washington announced that a letter to Barack Obama containing a "suspicious substance" had been intercepted at an off-site screening centre where mail to the White House is routinely inspected.

This letter, according to early media reports, was "similar" to one containing traces of the poison ricin which arrived on Tuesday at the Capitol Hill offices of Mississippi's Republican Senator Roger Wicker, and possibly other senators as well. In response, Congressional police briefly cleared parts of two Senate buildings over concerns over suspicious letters and a package.

Later, Paul Curtis, 45, was arrested at his flat in connection with the packages. Authorities however stressed there was no indication that any of these developments in the capital were connected with the Boston outrage.

Nonetheless, the sequence of events is eerily reminiscent of 12 years ago when, as the country reeled from the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, items of mail containing anthrax spores – far deadlier than ricin – were addressed to two Democratic senators and various media offices. Across the political heart of Washington, security precautions have been heightened, reflecting the current jittery mood.

But the main focus remains on Boston, where the FBI released pictures of a ripped backpack and the remains of a pressure cooker saucepan which it believes were used in the explosions. Today, the lid of a pressure cooker was discovered on the roof of a building close to the finishing stretch of the race along Boylston Street, one of the busiest east-west thoroughfares in downtown Boston.

The hope is that the pictures will jog memories, particularly at the stores where the items might have been purchased, or among people who might have seen a neighbour acting, in retrospect, suspiciously. Despite the hints of major progress, investigators warn that the probe could yet be long and painstaking.

All the items believed to have been used for the bombings are very easily obtainable. The pressure cooker model, for instance, is apparently made by a Spanish company, which sells some 50,000 of them annually in the US. They are reportedly stocked by no less than nine retailers within a mile of the marathon finish line.

In a separate part of the intricate jigsaw puzzle, the FBI and police have been combing through vast numbers of photos and video clips of the bomb scene, before and after the explosions, using state-of-the-art facial recognition technology. "We will go through every frame of every video to determine who exactly was in the area," said Boston police commissioner Edward Davis. On the day of the race, he added, "this was probably one of the most photographed areas in the entire country".

Today a near mile-long stretch of Boylston Street and adjacent blocks were still closed off, 48 hours after the two blasts, that authorities believe were deliberately planned to kill and maim as many people as possible.

According to a July 2010 intelligence report by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department, pressure-cooker explosives have been employed in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, while one of the three devices used in an attempted bombing in Times Square in 2010 used a pressure cooker. The technique moreover has been promoted by al-Qa'ida's branch in Yemen, which gave a detailed description of how to make a pressure cooker bomb in a 2010 issue of Inspire, its English-language online publication, targeted at aspiring terrorists who act alone.

"We don't know whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organisation, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual," Mr Obama said. He is due to fly into Boston today for an interfaith service.

Meanwhile Iran, the US's fiercest critic in the Islamic world, condemned the Boston bombings, yet criticised the US for employing a double standard over drone attacks that kill innocent civilians. The Islamic Republic "is opposed to any bombings and killings of innocent people no matter if it is in Boston, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria and condemns it," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian military leaders in Tehran. But he attacked the Obama administration for killing people with drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "What kind of logic is it that if children and women are killed by Americans in Afghanistan and Pakistan… it is is not a problem, but if a bombing happens in the US or another Western country, the whole world should pay the cost?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss