With al-Qaida operatives aware the likelihood of pulling off another Sept. 11-style mass terror plot is a long shot given tighter security and a far more robust intelligence effort, the terror group has taken to trying to radicalize lonely, disaffected young men on the Internet, anti-terror officials told The New York Times Sunday.
The two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspected of carrying out the Boston bombings are poster boys for this new tactic.
President Barack Obama acknowledged as much during a news conference Tuesday.
"One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States." Obama said such plots "are in some ways more difficult to prevent."
Anti-terror officials said an incident like the one in Boston -- which gave terrorists the saturated media coverage, gruesome photos and video of terrified citizens they covet -- was mostly a matter of time.
Philip Mudd, a former top CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, said the news from Boston wasn't shocking for officials who regularly monitor intelligence for potential threats.
"Like everyone who looked at the threat matrix every day, I was surprised that this didn't happen sooner," he said.
Mudd said the pressure cooker bombs were featured in Inspire, an online al-Qaida publication that seeks to influence impressionable young men and encourage them to carry out self-planned attacks.
Written in text message parlance, the publication is squarely aimed at men like the Tsarnaev brothers, particularly the elder Tamerlan who had failed at his dream of being an Olympic boxer and dropped out of college -- in other words, disaffected and searching for a purpose.
"R U dreamin' of wagin' jihadi attacks?" asks one 64-page manual on carrying out terror plots. "Have u been lookin' 4 a way to join the mujahideen in frontlines, but you haven't found any? Well, there's no need to travel abroad, because the frontline has come to you."