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
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
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
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
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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