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The Threats Of Terrorist Vehicular Ramming: Attacks And Prevention Measures
By Dr. Joshua Sinai

Firearms, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and knives have long been the weapons of choice for terrorists, but in what has become one of their latest warfare tactics motor vehicles are being weaponized as their instrument for ramming attacks against pedestrians. In this tactic, trucks, vans or cars are intentionally driven into public crowds, sometimes over long stretches of road before the attacks are terminated, usually through crashes. In some of these incidents, the attackers’ violence continues when they flee their stopped vehicles and use knives to inflict further damage on the nearby pedestrians.

This type of “vehicle ramming attack” (VRA) terrorism is defined as utilizing a motor vehicle to deliberately ram into people to kill and wound them, or to cause significant property damage, as part of their extremist political objectives. Both civilians and military/law enforcement personnel are targeted in such attacks. This tactic differs from employing car bombs in which vehicles are used as platforms for detonating IEDs in an attack. In the United States, for example, recent incidents in which terrorists attempted to detonate a car bomb in a public place included Faisal Shahzad’s unsuccessful attack on May 1, 2010 in Times Square, where the explosives in his sport utility vehicle (SUV) had failed to detonate, and Anthony Warner’s December 25, 2020 detonating of explosives in his recreational vehicle in downtown Nashville, TN, which severely damaged the nearby buildings.

The use of vehicular ramming tactics in a terrorist group’s warfare, while long used in conflict zones such as the Middle East (especially in Israel and the West Bank) and elsewhere, is relatively recent in the West, including the United States. In the U.S., the first car ramming attack after 9/11 took place on March 3, 2006 when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian-American, intentionally rammed his SUV at the campus of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, injuring nine persons.


Incidents of Vehicle Ramming Attacks, 2006-2021

The following is a representative sample of twenty incidents in which terrorists have used the tactic of vehicle ramming against crowds of people in their attacks over the past 17 years. Numerous other incidents involving terrorists’ ramming of vehicles in their attacks have occurred during this period, especially in Israel (and in the West Bank), so this listing is intended to serve as a preliminary account, to be expanded in other projects. December 6, 2004: An al Qaida cell drove two vehicles to storm through the fortified gate of the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and launched a three-hour gun battle that led to the killing of five consulate employees, including the four attackers.

March 3, 2006: Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian-American, intentionally rammed his SUV at the campus of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, wounding nine persons.

October 26, 2015: A man smashed his stolen car through the gates of an army barracks in Flawinne, southern Belgium, and continued driving the vehicle after shots were fired by the security guards. He was shortly thereafter arrested.

January 1, 2016: A man drove a car at four soldiers guarding a mosque in Valence, in southeastern France, injuring one of the soldiers. When he returned for a second pass, they shot and wounded him.

July 14, 2016: Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a radicalized Tunisian living in France, drove a 19-ton cargo truck into crowds on Bastille Day in Nice, France, killing 86 people and wounding 458 others.

November 28, 2016: Abdul Razak Ali Artan a Somali refugee, drove his car into a crowd at Ohio State University, in Columbus, OH, where he was a student, and then got out of his crashed vehicle and attempted to stab others. In total, 11 people were wounded.
December 19, 2016: Anis Amri, a Tunisian, Berlin, drove a truck into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, killing 12 people and wounding 56 others.

March 22, 2017: Khalid Masood drove a SUV into a crowd along the pavement of Westminster Bridge, in the vicinity of the British Parliament, in London, England. Four people were killed and more than 50 others wounded. After the drive left his vehicle, a stabbed a police officer. Masood was then shot by a responding police officer.

April 7, 2017: Rakhmat Akilov, rejected asylum seeker and citizen of Uzbekistan, drove his hijacked lorry truck into a department store in Stockholm, Sweden, killing five people and wounding 14 others.

June 3, 2017: Three radicalized Muslim male assailants drove their van into crowds on London Bridge, England, after which the attackers left their vehicle and stabbed several people in the area. Seven people were killed and 48 others injured.

June 19, 2017: Darren Osborne drove his van into a group of pedestrians attending late-night prayers at Finsbury Park Mosque, in London, England, killing one person and wounding 11 others.

August 12, 2017: James Alex Fields Jr. drove from Ohio to Charlottesville, Virginia, to attend a neo-Nazi rally, where he deliberately drove his car into a crowd of counter-rally protestors, killing one person and wounding several dozen others. He was immediately arrested.

August 17, 2017: Three radicalized Muslims deliberately drove a rented van into pedestrians in the Las Ramblas tourist area, in Barcelona, Spain, killing 13 and wounding more than 100 others.

September 30 2017: Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, a radicalized Somali refugee, deliberately drove his SUV at a police officer outside a football game, in Edmonton, Canada, after which he jumped out of the vehicle and stabbed the officer with a knife. After fleeing, he rented a U-Haul truck which he used to drive into pedestrians, wounding four people.

October 31, 2017: Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov drove a rented pickup truck down a bicycle path near the World Trade Center, in New York City, killing eight people and wounding almost a dozen others. After crashing his truck into a school bus, he got out of his vehicle and brandished a BB gun. He was immediately shot to death by a responding police officer.

April 23, 2018: Alek Minassian, an adherent of the extremist Incel movement, drove his rented van through a business district in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and deliberately targeted pedestrians, killing 10 and wounding 16 others. He was taken into custody by the responding police.


About the Author

Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Professor of Practice, Counterterrorism Studies, at Capitol Technology University, in Laurel, MD (www.captechu.edu). He is also a senior analyst at TorchStone Global, a security and protection firm (www.torchstoneglobal.com). He also teaches a graduate level distance learning course on “Global Terrorism” at Southern New Hampshire University.

 


 

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