Vehicle-ramming attack

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A vehicle-ramming attack is a form of mass murder in which a perpetrator deliberately rams a motor vehicle into a building, crowd of people,[1][2] or another vehicle. The earliest known use of a vehicle-ramming attack took place in 1973 in Prague, former Czechoslovakia, when Olga Hepnarová killed 8 people. According to Stratfor Global Intelligence analysts, this attack represented a new militant tactic which is less lethal but could prove more difficult to prevent than suicide bombings.[3]

Deliberate vehicle-ramming into crowd of people is a tactic used by terrorists,[4] becoming a major terrorist tactic in the 2010s because it requires little skill to perpetrate and has the potential to cause significant casualties.[5][6][7] Deliberate vehicle-ramming has also been carried out in the course of other types of crimes,[8] including road rage incidents.[9][10] Deliberate vehicle-ramming incidents have also sometimes been ascribed to the driver's psychiatric disorder.[11][a]

Vehicles have also been used by attackers to breach buildings with locked gates, before detonating explosives, as in the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier attack.

Causes propelling the rise of the tactic[edit]

According to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, the tactic has gained popularity because "Vehicle ramming offers terrorists with limited access to explosives or weapons an opportunity to conduct a homeland attack with minimal prior training or experience."[1] Counterterrorism researcher Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Slate that the tactic has been on the rise in Israel because, "the security barrier is fairly effective, which makes it hard to get bombs into the country."[12] In 2010, Inspire, the online, English-language magazine produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula urged mujahideen to choose "pedestrian only" locations and make sure to gain speed before ramming their vehicles into the crowd in order to "achieve maximum carnage".[12]

Vehicle attacks can be carried out by lone-wolf terrorists who are inspired by an ideology, but who are not actually working within a specific political movement or group.[13] Writing for The Daily Beast, Jacob Siegel suggests that the perpetrator of the 2014 Couture-Rouleau attack may be "the kind of terrorist the West could be seeing a lot more of in the future", a kind that he describes, following Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corporation, as "stray dogs", rather than lone wolves, characterizing them as "misfits" who are "moved from seething anger to spontaneous deadly action" by exposure to Islamist propaganda.[14] A 2014 propaganda video by ISIL encouraged French sympathizers to use cars to run down civilians.[15]

According to Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, where he is a senior fellow and expert on terrorism, the older model where members of groups like al-Qaeda would "plan and train together before going to carry out an attack, became defunct around 2005", due to increased surveillance by Western security agencies.[14] Watts says that Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born al-Qaeda imam, as a key figure in this shift, addressing English-speakers in their own language and urging them to "Do your own terrorism and stay in place."[14]

Jamie Bartlett, who heads the Violence and Extremism Program at Demos, a British think tank, explains that "the internet in the last few years has both increased the possibilities and the likelihood of lone-wolf terrorism," supplying isolated individuals with ideological motivation and technique.[16] For authorities in Western countries, the difficulty is that even in a case like that of the perpetrator of the 2014 Couture-Rouleau attack, where Canadian police had identified the attacker, taken away his passport, and were working with his family and community to steer him away from jihad, vehicle attacks can be hard to prevent because, "it's very difficult to know exactly what an individual is planning to do before a crime is committed. We cannot arrest someone for thinking radical thoughts; it's not a crime in Canada."[16][17]

According to Stratfor, the American global intelligence firm, "while not thus far as deadly as suicide bombing", this tactic could prove more difficult to prevent. No single group has claimed responsibility for the incidents.[3][clarification needed] Experts see a sort of saving grace in the ignorance and incompetence of most lone wolf terrorists, who often manage to murder very few people.[16]

Vehicular ramming has sometimes been advocated as a means to deal with protesters who block public roadways in the United States. Two police officers were suspended and fired in January and June 2016, respectively, for tweeting such advice in relation to Black Lives Matter rallies, which have sometimes been broken up by cars. North Dakota state legislator Keith Kempenich tried and failed to pass a law granting civil immunity to drivers who accidentally hit activists, after his mother-in-law was stopped by Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, and Tennessee Senator Bill Ketron did likewise after a man hit an anti-Trump group. Similar legislation has been introduced in Florida and Texas.[18] After the white supremacist Unite the Right rally, in which a anti-fascist protestor was killed in a vehicle ramming attack, conservative media outlets Fox News and The Daily Caller deleted videos which encouraged driving through crowds of protestors.[19]

Protective measures[edit]

Security measures taken to protect the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. These heavy blocks of concrete are designed to prevent a car bomb or other device being rammed into the building.
Concrete blocks in the city centre of Dresden during the 2016 German Unity Day Celebrations

On 23 October 2014, the US National Institute of Building Sciences updated its Building Design Guideline on Crash- and Attack-Resistant Models of bollards, a guideline written to help professionals design bollards to protect facilities from vehicle operators, "who plan or carry out acts of property destruction, incite terrorism, or cause the deaths of civilian, industrial or military populations".[20] The American Bar Association recommends bollards as effective protection against car ramming attacks.[21]

Security bollards are credited with minimizing damage and casualties in the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack,[22][23] and with preventing ramming in the 2014 Alon Shvut stabbing attack, leading the assailant to abandon his car and attack pedestrians waiting at a bus stop with a knife, after his effort to run them over was thwarted.[24] However, Berlin's police chief, Klaus Kandt, argued that bollards would not have prevented the 2016 Berlin attack, and that the required security measures would be "varied, complex, and far from a panacea".[25]

The city of Münster has been planning to install security bollards in public areas in response to vehicle-ramming attacks in European cities, including the 2016 Berlin attack.[26] While only selected locations can be protected this way, tight bends and restricted-width streets may also prevent a large vehicle getting speed before reaching a barrier.[27]

Modern Internet-connected drive-by-wire cars can potentially be hacked remotely and used for such attacks. In 2015, hackers remotely carjacked a Jeep from 10 miles away and drove it into a ditch.[28][29] Measures for cybersecurity of automobiles to prevent such are often criticized as to being insufficient.[citation needed]

List of terrorist attacks[edit]

In chronological order:

List of suspected terrorist attacks[edit]

Video of the vehicular ramming at the Unite the Right Rally that killed one person and injured 19

List of non-terrorist incidents[edit]

Motive not determined yet[edit]


  1. ^ Accidental vehicle ramming causing multiple deaths or injuries to pedestrians or others also occurs, although rarely.[4] Causes of such accidental mass-casualty vehicular ramming include drunk and drug–impaired driving or driver error by elderly drivers.[11] See also sudden unintended acceleration.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Issued 13 December 2012. "Department of Homeland Security-FBI Warning: Terrorist Use of Vehicle Ramming Tactics". FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  2. ^ David C. Rapoport (2006). Terrorism: The fourth or religious wave. Taylor & Francis. pp. 150–. ISBN 978-0-415-31654-5. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b Israel: Vehicle Attacks – A New Militant Tactic?. Stratfor Global Intelligence
  4. ^ a b c "Mass casualty traffic incidents like Endymion's are rare, but do happen". New Orleans Times-Picayune. February 27, 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  5. ^ Amanda Erickson & Isaac Stanley-Becker, How ramming cars into crowds became a major terror tactic, Washington Post (March 22, 2017).
  6. ^ Keating, Joshua (5 November 2014). "Why Terrorists Use Vehicles as Weapons". Slate. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  7. ^ Jamison, Alastair (20 December 2016). "Truck Attacks: Low-Tech, Soft Target Terrorism Is Growing Threat". NBC News. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  8. ^ David Ormerod, John Cyril Smith & Brian Hogan, Smith and Hogan's Criminal Law (13th ed. 2011: Oxford University Press), p. 1138: "There are at least six ways that a person might be held liable for causing a death by driving. At the most extreme it is possible for D[efendant] to be liable for murder, as when he drivers at V[ictim] with intent to kill or do gbh (great bodily harm)."
  9. ^ R.G. Smart, "Transport Related Stress" in Stress Consequences: Mental, Neuropsychological and Socioeconomic (ed. George Fink: Academic Press, 2009), p. 708: "A national study in the United States found that ... of respondents ... 1-2% had gotten out of their cars to hurt other drivers, deliberately hit other drivers, or had carried a weapon."
  10. ^ Audi driver pleads guilty after video shows him mowing down man in road-rage incident in New Brunswick, Canadian Press (February 28, 2017).
  11. ^ a b Alan R. Felthouse, "Personal Violence" in The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic Psychiatry (2d ed.: eds. Robert I. Simon & Liza H. Gold), pp. 551-52: "An automobile is a potentially lethal machine. Litigation involving psychiatrists has resulted when a hospitalized patient, after discharges, caused a two-person vehicle accident with death or injuries to one or more victims ... Such cases involve three different types of scenarios. One is the vehicular crash that results from the patient's medication-induced drowsiness at the wheel ... The second scenario is a true accident but is unrelated to any prescribed medication. Rather, the patient's driving is impaired by the disabling effects of mental illness [or] recent consumption of nonprescribed drugs or alcohol. The third situation is when the patient deliberately crashes into another vehicle. Neuropsychiatric conditions that can be associated with an increased risk of vehicular crash include psychotic exacerbation of schizophrenia, profound or suicidal depression, dementia, and disturbances in consciousness, such as epilepsy and narcolepsy."
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  16. ^ a b c Bajekal, Naina (23 October 2014). "The Rise of the Lone Wolf Terrorist". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
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  19. ^ Kludt, Tom (2017-08-15). "Fox News, Daily Caller delete posts encouraging people to drive through protests". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2017-08-16.
  20. ^ Oakes, Charles (23 October 2014). "The Bollard: Crash- and Attack-Resistant Models". Whole Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  21. ^ Ernest B. Abbott and Otto J. Hetzel, "Homeland Security Begins at Home: Local Planning and Regulatory Review to Improve Security", in Rufus Calhoun Young, Jr. and Dwight H. Merriam, A Legal Guide to Homeland Security and Emergency Management for State and Local Governments, American Bar Association, 2006
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