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The humble pressure cooker is no longer stainless. After the terrible attack at the Boston marathon, it was revealed that these utensils had been employed as improvised explosive devices. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Apr 19, 2013 23:37 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
Anirudh Bhattacharyya,American jalebi,news

The humble pressure cooker is no longer stainless. After the terrible attack at the Boston marathon, it was revealed that these utensils had been employed as improvised explosive devices. Suddenly, the pressure cooker is a weapon of mass destruction, spewing reportage and columns on its use and misuse.

None of it was new, though it appeared to be news to the American media. Instances of pressure cookers used in terrorism have been reported in India, in Kashmir and during the Mumbai train bombings.

It’s common enough in India, and not quite foreign to the United States, where the pressure cooker has been around for nearly 75 years. You could purchase one from Macy’s in Manhattan, or from the desi bazaar at Jackson Heights. Though given its post-Boston infamy, I won’t be surprised if potential buyers have to undergo background checks in the future. US-bound Indians, their baggage bulging with the mandatory pressure cooker, had better watch out.

The online jihadi webzine, Inspire, had extolled the utensil’s vice, in an article titled ‘Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom’. Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad attempted to rig one in his abortive Times Square bombing escapade in 2010. Among those who apparently read that article was US Army Private Naser Abdo, who was arrested in 2011, for planning an attack on a restaurant in Texas. Originally charged with an unregistered destructive device, among his armoury was, you guessed it, a pressure cooker.

Ironically, Abdo invoked the name of Nidal Hasan as he was charged. That US Army major went on a terrorist rampage in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, killing 13 people, an incident officially classified as workplace violence, which is a fine way of maintaining the myth that the American homeland has been free of terrorism-related fatalities since 9/11. Hasan was influenced by cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen, in a September 2011 drone strike, along with Samir Khan, who happened to be Inspire’s editor.

As with the Nidal Hasan episode, and later the Benghazi slaying of American diplomats, the Obama administration decided to call a spade clubs.

Another PC bomb exploded, one that can’t be sourced to a pressure cooker. For over 17 hours, the American president wouldn’t attribute the Boston attack to terrorism. Perhaps his advisers felt this was the handiwork of Justin Bieber fans gone berserk. Or even worse, as with Benghazi, people allegedly terribly upset over a nasty YouTube video. After all, there’s no group as dangerous as social media snarkistas.

When Faisal Shahzad failed in detonating a bomb at Times Square in 2010, New York City mayor, and Obama crony, Michael Bloomberg suggested that the abortive terrorist attempt may have been caused by someone upset over the Obama administration’s healthcare legislation. Perhaps, this time around, the administration was waiting to hear from the mayor of Boston over whether these bombings were undertaken by anti-gun control activists. Or as former White House senior advisor David

Axelrod helpfully pointed out, “We really don’t know who did this, it was tax day.”

Regardless of the race, religion or rationale of the perpetrators, an attack that claimed three lives and injured over 170, was, but obviously, a manifestation of terror. Seemingly Barack Obama realised that, as his second statement on the incident reflected: “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.”

As yet another terror strike occurred in India, in Bangalore, it’s clear that open societies can’t really always deter those that wish to disrupt their rhythms. Not every terrorist cell or vicious individual can be detected. You can’t have hermetically sealed security environments. There’s no margin for terror.
While the usual mantra of resilience is chanted after terrorist strikes, this could turn out to be an endurance event, like a marathon.

Meanwhile, given the media hysteria over the utensil, the phrase ‘pressure cooker situation’ will never again hold quite the same meaning.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Apr 19, 2013 22:39 IST