The Tsarnaev brothers pulled off their terrorist attack with great skill but made a fatal mistake in letting their faces and bodies be seen at a heavily photographed international sporting event. This meant that multiple images of them were available for a massive law enforcement squad to comb over and, after three days, identify them by name and appearance.

This rapid identification was not unprecedented – the London police had done likewise in the July 2005 suicide bombings but because none of the four perpetrators survived that attack, that was more a theoretical achievement than a practical one. To the best of my knowledge, the Tsarnaevs were the first terrorists to be tracked down via still and video pictures.

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In retrospect, the brothers should not have exposed their appearances. But how to avoid doing so? Hoodies leave the face exposed. Ski masks arouse suspicion in temperate weather, as do Halloween masks all but one night a year, and stocking masks at any time.

Obviously, they should have put on Islamic full body covers that show only the eyes (niqabs) or nothing at all (burqas). These garments have multiple and unique virtues, totally hiding the wearers’ identity; being legitimate attire in any weather and in any place; permitting the discreet transport of weapons; giving off the helpfully false impression of being worn by women, which both reduces suspicion and misleads witnesses; usefully creating a social barrier; maximizing personal prerogatives; and being ideologically appropriate, sending an unmistakable Islamist signal.

The niqab exposes the eyes, which is a drawback that sunglasses can compensate for; and it has the great virtue of allowing the terrorist to see around him better than the burqa.

One must expect future non-suicide bombers to turn to niqabs or burqas. (As many terrorists and criminals repeatedly have done so: see my 16,000-word blog on this topic.)

But why wait for them to engage in more murders? Why close the barn door only after the horse has run away? Far smarter would be to ban the niqab and burqa in public places now, before tragedy occurs.

Originally published at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, April 21, 2013.

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Daniel Pipes is a world-renowned Middle East and Islam expert. He is President of the Middle East Forum. His articles appear in many newspapers. He received his A.B. (1971) and Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard University and has taught at Harvard, Pepperdine, the U.S. Naval War College, and the University of Chicago. He is a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace and other institutions. His website is DanielPipes.org.

2 COMMENTS

  1. By all means, let’s let the terrorists win by gutting the First Amendment, Daniel. I think you know, very well, that this idea would never pass Constitutional muster.

    And it would make no difference. Do you really see terrorists dressing up as women to commit terrorist attacks?

    How many terrorist attacks have been committed by guys dressed as women?

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