Cars and Trucks as Weapons of Terror

CEP Research Director


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On March 22, 2017, terrorist assailant Khalid Masood killed five people during a vehicle and stabbing attack in London. The following day, a similar attack was thwarted in Antwerp, Belgium. On April 7, another assailant carried out a suspected terrorist attack, this time in Sweden, hijacking a truck and careening into crowds of pedestrians at the Ahlens Mall in Stockholm, killing at least three people and wounding countless more. Similar ISIS-claimed attacks in Nice, Ohio, and Berlin each involved armed assailants using cars and trucks as weapons, charging at pedestrians in crowded civilian areas.

The recent spate of vehicular attacks is not a new phenomenon. Attacks using vehicles were carried out beginning in 2006 in London, Quebec, Dijon, Nantes, Jerusalem, and North Carolina. ISIS’s explicit calls to employ cars as weapons—and encouragement from other terrorist organizations like Hamas—appear to have served as an inspiration for the recent wave of attacks worldwide.

Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas Call for (and Claim) Attacks:

Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas have called for or claimed responsibility for vehicular terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda’s second issue of Inspire magazine, in October 2010, contained an article urging vehicular attacks and referring to a pickup truck as a potential “mowing machine” that can be used to “mow down the enemies of Allah.” Inspire editor-in-chief Yahya Ibrahim urged al-Qaeda followers to “[g]o for the most crowded location” and “pick up as much speed as you can” in order “strike as many people as possible.”

Other groups have similarly encouraged the use of motor vehicles as weapons of terror. In the fall of 2014, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani issued a call to kill non-believers using any means at their disposal. In November of that year, French ISIS fighter Abu Salman al-Faranci appeared in an ISIS video calling for followers to carry out attacks if they cannot travel to ISIS-held territory. As Faranci said: “Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror. There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit. Even poison is available…”

On July 14, 2016, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used a 19-ton refrigerated truck to carry out the Bastille Day attack in Nice, killing 84 people and wounding hundreds more. In mid-November 2016, ISIS’s third issue of Rumiyah included an article calling for its followers to carry out vehicle attacks. The article specified the ideal type, weight, and speed of a car needed for terror purposes, and encouraged attacks on “large outdoor conventions and celebrations, pedestrian-congested streets, outdoor markets, festivals, festivals, parades[, and] political rallies.” Later that month, Somali-born Abdul Razak Ali Artan carried out a car and knife attack at Ohio State University, wounding 11 people.

ISIS and al-Qaeda are not the only terrorist groups to urge vehicular attacks. In November 2014, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups—including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—praised a wave of vehicular attacks in Israel and called for more. One such image posted online read, “Run [them] over, son of Hebron...and son of Jerusalem. Take your car...and run over the Zionists.”

Timeline of Major Vehicular Terrorist Attacks:

Terrorists have carried out attacks using cars and trucks in a wide range of countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Israel, Germany, and Belgium. CEP has documented 11 major vehicular terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe since 2000. Of these attacks, three took place in France and two in the United States. The single deadliest vehicular terrorist attack in Europe was the July 2016 Bastille Day attack in Nice, when terrorist assailant Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel killed 84 people and wounded hundreds at Nice’s Promenade Des Anglais.

  • March 4, 2006: United States. Iranian-born Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar uses an SUV to ram into pedestrians at the University of North Carolina, wounding eight people. Taheri-azar tells investigators that he carried out the attack in order to punish the U.S. government and “avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world.”
  • May 22, 2013: United Kingdom. Two British-born assailants ram a car into British soldier Lee Rigby before attacking and killing him with knives and a meat cleaver.
  • October 20, 2014: Canada. Canadian-born ISIS supporter Martin Couture-Rouleau rams a car into a group of soldiers at a shopping center in Quebec, killing one and wounding another.
  • December 21, 2014: France. A man rams his car into crowds in the eastern French city of Dijon while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” injuring 13 people.
  • December 22, 2014: France. A man who had recently watched a program on Chechnya rams a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Nantes, western France, wounding at least 10 people.
  • July 14, 2016: France. Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel carries out the Bastille Day attacks in France, killing 84 people and wounding hundreds more. ISIS claims responsibility.
  • November 28, 2016: United States. Somali-born Abdul Razak Ali Artan carries out the car and knife attack at Ohio State University, wounding 11 people. Prior to the attack, Artan calls al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki “our hero” in a message posted to Facebook. ISIS claims responsibility.
  • December 19, 2016: Germany. Tunisian-born Anis Amri carries out the Christmas Market attack in Germany, killing 12 people and wounding 48 others. ISIS claims responsibility.
  • March 22, 2017: United Kingdom. British-born Khalid Masood rams a crowd of pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing four people and wounding dozens more. The driver then crashes his car into the gates of the Palace of Westminster. He stabs to death a police officer outside the nearby Houses of Parliament before being shot and killed by police. ISIS claims responsibility.
  • March 23, 2017: Belgium. A man is intercepted while driving at high-speed toward crowds at De Meir, the major shopping street in Antwerp.
  • April 7, 2017: Sweden. An unidentified assailant drives a truck into a crowd at a shopping mall in Stockholm, killing at least three people and injuring others.

There has also been a wave of vehicular terrorist attacks targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians. These car-ramming attacks include:

  • July 2, 2008: Assailant rams a front-end loader into buses and cars in Jerusalem, killing three people and wounding 40 others.
  • July 22, 2008: Assailant rams a bulldozer into nearby vehicles in Jerusalem, wounding at least 16 people.
  • September 22, 2008: Assailant rams his car into a group of Israelis in Jerusalem, injuring 15 Israeli soldiers and four civilians.
  • March 5, 2009: Assailant uses a bulldozer to ram into an Israeli police car, injuring two officers.
  • October 22, 2014: Assailant rams his car into a crowd of pedestrians at a light rail train station in Jerusalem, killing two people—including a three-month-old girl—and wounding seven more.
  • November 5, 2014: Assailant drives into a crowded area in Jerusalem, killing two people and wounding more than a dozen others. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) both praise the recent wave of vehicular attacks and call for more.
  • January 8, 2017: An alleged ISIS supporter plows a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four people and injuring at least 10 others.
  • April 6, 2017: Assailant carries out a vehicular attack in the West Bank, killing one Israeli soldier and wounding another in an attack praised by Hamas.