Quebec. Jerusalem. Nice. Berlin. Columbus. Stockholm. And now London, where, for a second time this year, a vehicle has plowed into a crowd.
This weekend’s attack, which began when three men in a van mowed down pedestrians crossing London Bridge and culminated with a stabbing rampage in nearby Borough Market, has resulted in seven fatalities, not including the perpetrators who were all shot and killed by police, and 48 injuries. As this most recent attack reminds us, “rammings” have become mainstream—and the trend is worrisome.
After authorities made it much more difficult to hijack planes and obtain weapons of mass destruction following 9/11—depriving terrorists of the means to launch spectacular attacks—extremists shifted to simple, easy-to-execute acts of violence like mass shootings and automobile rammings. The unsophisticated and omnipresent threat posed by vehicular terrorism is now forcing those entrusted with security to rethink their paradigms.
Following the attack in Nice that killed 86 people in July 2016, the Islamic State published a guide for would-be attackers, noting that vehicles are “extremely easy to acquire” and unlikely to arouse the suspicions of citizens or authorities. The group wasn’t the first to suggest such an approach. Al-Qaeda championed ramming as an effective method of terrorism years before ISIS came along. In a 2010 article titled “The Ultimate Mowing Machine” in Inspire magazine, a propaganda publication of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the author gave guidance to terrorists on how to choose targets, outlining which vehicles would likely result in the highest casualties. For such attacks, the barrier to entry is remarkably low; the main skill required is the ability to drive. Indeed, as a recent Transportation Security Administration report warns: “No community, large or small, rural or urban, is immune to attacks of this kind.”