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How Long Does it Take to Catch a Terrorist?

FBI photo of a pressure cooker lid found near Boston bomb site.

Three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, investigators are still trying to unravel how a pair of blasts killed three and injured at least 170. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama called it an “act of terror,” but said it is not clear whether the twin blasts were the work of a foreign or domestic group or a “malevolent individual.”

As the country waits for answers about who the terrorist — or terrorists — is, the reality of how long that might take was discussed Tuesday on the PBS NewsHour. Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, said he’s optimistic that they’ll find the perpetrator of the Boston marathon bombings eventually, but possibly not until evidence is painstakingly pored through and analyzed. “I have the unfortunate suspicion that this won’t be solved quickly,” he said in a story posted yesterday.

That made us wonder: how long does it take to catch a terrorist? To try to answer that, we compiled data on the most violent terrorist bombing attacks on the U.S. since 1974, and looked at how many days the manhunts took. We also wanted to know how long it took for the terrorist to be convicted and executed, if that’s what their sentence called for.

The data is clear on one point: there is no answer, no template we can look at, to estimate how long this will take.

But as pointed out ad nauseam, this is the first attack of it’s kind to be captured in a social media world, where pictures and videos from professionals and amateurs are available in abundance. The FBI has released an image in hopes of uncovering clues to who was behind this attack.

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