On January 15, 2019, al-Shabaab gunmen stormed an upscale hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The attack lasted over 12 hours, killing 22 people and wounding 27 others.
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.
There has also been a wave of vehicular terrorist attacks targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians. These car-ramming attacks include:
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