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BOSTON — Appealing for help from the public, the FBI on Thursday released pictures and video of two men that officials believe may be responsible for the explosions that killed three people and injured more than 170 during the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Officials said they had images of one man putting a black backpack on the ground minutes before two near-simultaneous blasts went off close to the finish line of the marathon at 2:50 p.m. EDT Monday. Officials said one video, which they did not release, showed the two men walking slowly away after a bomb exploded while the crowd fled.

At a briefing in Boston, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, initiated the unprecedented crowdsourcing manhunt by urging the public to look at the pictures and video on the FBI’s website. The two men appear to be in their 20s, but DesLauriers did not characterize the appearance of the men or offer an opinion as to their possible ethnicity or national origin.

“Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members of the suspects,” DesLauriers said. “Though it may be difficult, the nation is counting on those with information to come forward and provide it to us.”

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The FBI’s release of the images, while it seemed to rule out a lone wolf, did not answer whether the bombing was a terrorist attack associated with a foreign or domestic extremist group or whether there was another agenda.

The man who was identified by the FBI as “suspect No. 1” was not captured on video dropping his backpack. He wore dark glasses, a black baseball hat pulled low, chino pants, a white T-shirt and a dark jacket.

The second man, wearing a white baseball hat backward and dark clothing and carrying a light-colored backpack, was recorded setting down what the FBI believes was the bomb that caused the second blast outside the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street near the finish line. The man then proceeded west on Boylston.

The well-known restaurant was hosting a race-watching party at the time, and DesLauriers appealed to people who were there and who have not yet come forward to contact the FBI.

In the snippets of released video, both suspects appeared unhurried as they moved along the street. The video showed both men walking in single file close together on Boylston Street shortly before the explosions, and DesLauriers said they appeared to investigators to be associated with each other.

DesLauriers said locating the suspects was the “highest priority” of investigators, but he cautioned the public not to attempt to attempt to confront or apprehend them and to immediately call the FBI or local police. “Do not take any action on your own,” he said.

Law-enforcement officials hope the photos will be seen worldwide. In the three days since the bombing, the suspects may have left the Boston area and could have left the country, said a law-enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the FBI is also concerned about the possibility of another bombing while the two men remain at large.

Almost immediately after the briefing, calls started flooding the bureau’s office complex in Clarksburg, W.Va. Traffic to the FBI’s website spiked to the highest it has ever received, an official said. For a brief period, the website was offline.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller were directly involved in the decision to release the photos, a law-enforcement official said.

Michael Bouchard, a former assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that in releasing the photographs and video, the authorities had taken a calculated risk.

“If you don’t release the photos, the bad guys don’t know you’re on to them while you’re looking,” said Bouchard, who helped oversee the Washington, D.C., sniper case in 2002 and now runs his own security consultancy in Vienna, Va. “If you do release them, you run the risk they see them and change their appearance or go underground.”

Bouchard said several characteristics in the images selected for release were distinctive: the emblem on one man’s hat, the backpacks they carried, their gaits and the sight of the two men walking together.

“They don’t know if these guys are from out of town, so they had to cast their net wider,” said Bouchard, who said the widespread use of social media and cellphones made such identifications easier than just a few years ago. “Now the public becomes a force multiplier.”

At the briefing, DesLauriers did not specify what had led the FBI to call the two men suspects, but the official said the decision was “based on what they do in the rest of the video.” According to officials, when the blasts went off, most people fled in panic, but these two did not and instead walked away slowly, almost casually.

“We have a lot more video than what we released,” the official said. “The sole purpose of what we released was to show the public what they looked like.”

That FBI officials chose to make the video images public suggested to some people familiar with law-enforcement tactics that they have not been able to match them with faces in government photo databases, said Jim Albers, senior vice president at MorphoTrust USA, which supplies facial-recognition technology to the United States. The FBI has a collection of mug shots of more than 12 million people, mostly arrest photos.

“The only conclusion you can reach is that they don’t have a match they have confidence in,” Albers said.

The briefing Thursday took place a few hours after President Obama spoke at an interfaith service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Almost 1,800 people packed the pews and hundreds more outside listened as his words were broadcast.

His theme was the marathon, as road race and metaphor, and he began his remarks with the same phrase that he used to end them: “Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

He mourned the dead and assured the maimed that they were not alone.

“We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again,” he said. “Of that I have no doubt. You will run again.”

He spoke in personal terms. With a nod to his years as a student at Harvard Law School and to his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention here when he burst onto the national political stage, he embraced this heartbroken city as his own.

And whoever the perpetrators may be, Obama dismissed them as “small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build.”

The interfaith service where Obama spoke, “Healing Our City,” brought together Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, as well as prominent state and local leaders. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama’s rival in last year’s presidential election, was among the dignitaries at the service.

As the president sought to console the city, one law-enforcement official said the suspects in the photographs had captured the interest of the authorities because of their bags.

Crime-scene investigators recovered portions of a shredded black backpack that they believe carried explosives, this official said, and they were able to determine the brand and model of the bag. The backpack carried by at least one of the men in the videos appeared to be a match, the person said.

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