Both the Austin and UT Police Departments have faced criticism for public comments on the Austin bomber’s attacks, sparking debate on whether or not the bomber can be classified as a terrorist.
Brian Manley, APD’s interim chief, came under fire after he did not call the Austin bomber a terrorist in a March 21 press conference. Response to Manley’s remarks differed from those of UTPD Chief David Carter’s. One day before the suspect’s death, Carter told the Dallas Morning News that the bomber’s acts were terroristic but did not explicitly call him a terrorist.
“In my opinion most people would agree that the community was in fact being terrorized and therefore that was a terrorist act,” Carter said. “Whether that individual’s motivation fit the criminal definition or rose to the level of the terrorism offense is a separate issue.”
Police said Mark Conditt killed two people and injured four in Austin using bombs he created. One more was injured in San Antonio. Police located Conditt on March 21, but he was killed after detonating a bomb in his vehicle. Later that day, police obtained what they said was Conditt’s 25-minute taped confession.
“What I can tell you having listened to this recording, he does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said in a press conference. “But instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”
The controversy around classifying the bomber as a terrorist stems from the fact that the traditional definition of terrorism requires a political motive, Carter said.
“The federal definition (of terrorism) in terms of what the law says and what the police or law enforcement have to prove in a criminal court is what is considered the elements of the crime, and that includes (that) basically there has to be some motivation based on ideology or trying to affect a political system,” Carter said.
Manley’s comments about Conditt’s confession attracted public criticism, which he addressed in an interview with KVUE. Manley said he is not at all sympathetic towards Conditt.
“What my comments were, were a reflection of what his comments were,” Manley said in the interview. “They are not belief, they are not my opinion. My comments were meant to summarize what I heard him say (in his confession) … My opinion is that he created terror in our community.”
Manley could not be reached by The Daily Texan for comment.
Carter said his statements to the Dallas Morning News about the bomber were also in need of clarification.
“I didn’t call it terrorism.” Carter said. “I said this is clearly a terroristic act.”
Carter said legal definitions aside, law enforcement has to acknowledge that Conditt’s attacks still spread fear throughout the community.
“We have to recognize the entire community has been terrorized by this and whether or not Mr. Conditt’s motives are political, whether they were something else, the end result is exactly the same,” Carter said.
Steven Slick, director of the UT Intelligence Studies Project, said he doesn’t fault the community for wanting to label Conditt a terrorist.
“For most scholars and practitioners, terrorism is a violent act or acts, or a threat of violence, paired with a political motive,” Slick said in an email. “That said, it is perfectly natural for the victims, their families or members of the community to apply a more colloquial definition and regard these horrific acts as terrorism because of the damage they caused and the anxiety they produced.”