Vehicular Terrorism: The Threat Behind the Wheel

Recent vehicular attacks in France and Germany clearly highlighted the viability of vehicle ramming as a legitimate terrorist tactic.

Vehicular Terrorism: The Threat Behind the Wheel

Executive Summary

Recent vehicular attacks in France and Germany clearly highlighted the viability of vehicle ramming as a legitimate terrorist tactic and one that should be a focus for law enforcement, especially during special event planning. These attacks vividly demonstrate how challenging it can be to stop a vehicular attack once it has been launched. The attacks also signal a new strategy in Islamic terrorism that uses small cyber-connected cells of radicalized Muslim militants.

The sudden increase of this activity leading up the 2016 Christmas holidays resulted in significant countermeasures by law enforcement and security personnel throughout the United States. In New York City, police dispatched heavily armed counterterrorism officers to stand guard at crowded pop-up Christmas markets in Union Square, Bryant Park and Columbus Circle only an hour after news of the attack in Berlin. Other cities followed with similar tactics.

In Chicago, police parked their vehicles diagonally at the corners of Daley Plaza to block any vehicular access to a Christmas market being held there. In San Francisco, motorcycle and mounted horse units patrolled high-traffic shopping areas. In Los Angeles, law enforcement placed rows of two to three cars or other large equipment in front of large event entrances, which included two massive parades in West Hollywood this year. In Boston, at the scene of the marathon bombing and throughout other cities in Massachusetts, authorities went on a heightened state of vigilance. ...

A vehicular attack is easy for anyone to launch with little or no planning. Active shooter tactics target crowds who are contained, vehicle ramming tactics are not hampered by this requirement. Crowds of people are ubiquitous in every city in America, regardless of holidays, special events or general workdays, and security personnel and law enforcement must be prepared for evolving terrorist tactics that remain unconventional but are simple and easily supported logistically.

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