The Future of Terrorism? Vehicle-Ramming Attacks

In recent years, using vehicle as weapons has become more commonplace.  The attacks are easier to carry out because little skill is required to carry them out.  They are also low-tech so there is no need to acquire bomb components, or other materials which may be deemed suspicious.  A vehicle ramming attack is an attack in which an individual purposefully drives their vehicle into a crowd of people, a building, or another vehicle.  Today, a van drove into a crowd of people in Munster, Germany today killing several and wounded dozens.  Although this has not been linked to terrorism yet, or has not been claimed by any group, these types of attacks are becoming more prevalent.

Although there were vehicle ramming attacks as far back as the 1970s, there were numerous attacks that occurred in recent years that are of concern.  On July 14, 2016, for example, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck through a crowd at a Bastille Day event in Nice, France killing 86.  Since this attack, there have been numerous carried out around the world by individuals claiming allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). Last year, there were vehicle ramming attacks in London, Sweden, Israel, Spain, Canada, and of course the attack in Manhattan that killed eight. These attacks show the influence IS has on individuals who espouse their ideologies.

In 2016, the Islamic State released their third edition of Rumiyah Magazine online in which they called for vehicle ramming attacks.  The article, “Just Terror Tactics,” focused on these vehicle attacks discussing what vehicles to use, and which to avoid; targets that are ideal for these types of attacks (parades, outdoor markets, etc.); and the use of a secondary weapon, such as a gun or knife, if possible.  So just why have these attacks become more popular?

Some terrorist attacks, such as September 11th and the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, or the more recent Paris attacks killed large numbers of civilians.  These attacks, however, took a long time to plan, coordinate, and set in motion.  With many prohibitions on explosive materials in the U.S. and many other countries, and the skill required to build these bombs, a low-tech approach seems much easier.  Although the vehicle ramming attacks will not yield thousands of causalities like 9/11, it takes little time, little preparation, and require little to no coordination.  This makes low-tech attacks a tactic of choice for groups such as the Islamic State.

About Dr. Vesna Markovic

Dr. Vesna Markovic is Associate Professor and Chair of Justice, Law and Public Safety Studies at Lewis University. Her expertise includes Terrorism (Suicide Bombings, Financing Terrorism), Transnational and Organized Crime, Comparative Criminal Justice Systems

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