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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, 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.
Deliberate vehicle-ramming into crowd of people is a tactic used by terrorists, becoming a major terrorist tactic in the 2010s because it requires little skill to perpetrate and has the potential to cause significant casualties. Deliberate vehicle-ramming has also been carried out in the course of other types of crimes, including road rage incidents. Deliberate vehicle-ramming incidents have also sometimes been ascribed to the driver's psychiatric disorder.[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
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." 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." 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".
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. 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. A 2014 propaganda video by ISIL encouraged French sympathizers to use cars to run down civilians.
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. 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."
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. 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."
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.[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.
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. 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.
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". The American Bar Association recommends bollards as effective protection against car ramming attacks.
Security bollards are credited with minimizing damage and casualties in the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack, 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. 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".
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. 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.
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. Measures for cybersecurity of automobiles to prevent such are often criticized as to being insufficient.
List of terrorist attacks
In chronological order:
- 1981 Iraqi embassy bombing, Beirut, Lebanon (not ramming pedestrians: ramming a specific building then exploding)
- 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, Lebanon (building ramming + exploding)
- 1987 Army camp bombing, Sri Lanka (building ramming + exploding)
- 1998 Temple of the Tooth attack, Sri Lanka (building ramming + exploding)
- 1999 Ibar Highway assassination attempt, FR Yugoslavia (assassination attempt)
- 2001 Azor attack, Israel (ramming people, mostly soldiers)
- 2001 Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly car bombing (building gate ramming + exploding + gunfire)
- 2002 Lyon car attack, France (building ramming + fire)
- 2004 Granby Colorado rampage (modified bulldozer)
- 2006 UNC SUV attack, University of North Carolina, United States (ramming people)
- 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack, Scotland, United Kingdom (building ramming + detonating gas cylinders)
- 2008 Jerusalem vehicular attack, Israel (ramming vehicles and people)
- 2008 Jerusalem bulldozer attack, Israel (ramming people)
- 2011 Tel Aviv truck attack, Israel (ramming vehicles and people)
- 2011 Tel Aviv nightclub attack, Israel (ramming + stabbing)
- May 2013 Murder of Lee Rigby, London, England, United Kingdom (ramming + stabbing)
- 2013 Tiananmen Square attack, China (ramming people + bursting into flames)
- May 2014 Ürümqi attack, China (ramming + throwing bombs off the vehicle)
- 2014 Jerusalem tractor attack, Israel (ramming people + bus)
- 2014 Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu ramming attack, Canada (ramming)
- October 2014 Jerusalem vehicular attack, Israel (ramming people)
- November 2014 Jerusalem vehicular attack, Israel (ramming + hitting with a metal crowbar)
- 2014 Alon Shvut stabbing attack, West Bank (failed ramming + stabbing)
- 2016 Nice attack, France (86 killed ramming people + gunfire)
- 2016 Ohio State University attack, United States (ramming + stabbing)
- 2016 Berlin attack, Germany (shooting truck driver + ramming people; 12 killed)
- 2017 Jerusalem truck attack, Israel (ramming people; 4 killed)
- 2017 Westminster attack, London, England, United Kingdom (ramming + stabbing; some victims were thrown off Westminster Bridge by the ramming; 5 killed)
- 2017 Stockholm attack, Sweden (ramming people; 5 killed)
- June 2017 London Bridge attack, England, United Kingdom (ramming + stabbing; 8 killed)
- 2017 Finsbury Park attack, London, England, United Kingdom (ramming people; 1 killed)
- June 2017 Champs-Élysées car ramming attack, Paris, France (ramming a police car; 1 attacker killed)
- 2017 Paris mosque attack, failed car ramming into crowd in front of Creteil mosque in revenge for ISIS attacks
- 2017 Levallois-Perret attack, Levallois-Perret, France (ramming soldiers; none killed)
- 2017 Barcelona attacks, Barcelona, Spain (massive ramming + stabbing + bombings; 16 killed 152 injured)
- 2017 New York City truck attack (ramming cyclists and runners; 8 killed)
- 2018 Hancock Park Synagogue attack (ramming people, none injured)
List of suspected terrorist attacks
- 2017 Charlottesville attack, during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States (ramming people; 1 killed)
- 2017 Edmonton attack, Canada (ramming + stabbing; none killed)
- 2018 Westminster car incident (ramming pedestrians and cyclists before crashing into security barriers; none killed)
List of non-terrorist incidents
- 1953 Elias Antonio case, Syrian merchant who killed one person and wounded up to 29 others in Bento Ribeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when ramming his car into a carnival block
- 1973 Olga Hepnarová case, Czechoslovakian woman using a truck to go on a rampage.
- 1983 Douglas Crabbe drove a 25-tonne Mack truck into the crowded bar of a motel at the base of Uluru on 18 August 1983. Five people were killed and sixteen seriously injured.
- 1995 Shawn Nelson case, plumber using a stolen tank to go on a rampage
- 1999 Emiko Taira (mother of Japanese pop singer Namie Amuro) and her husband Tatsunobu Taira were walking along a road near National Highway No. 58 in Ōgimi, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan when Tatsunobu’s brother Kenji Taira backed his car into a telephone pole and ran over the couple on 17 March 1999. Emiko Taira was killed. Kenji Taira later committed suicide.
- 1999 Shimonoseki Station massacre (ramming and stabbing)
- 2003 A psychological unstable person kills one and hurts eighteen in Stockholm's old town. A second death later occurs in hospital.
- 2004 Marvin Heemeyer case, welder using an armored bulldozer to destroy buildings
- 2004 Ibaraki car attack (ramming people). 2 dead, 3 injured.
- April 2005 Sendai car attack (ramming people). 3 dead, 4 injured.
- December 2005 Sendai car attack (ramming people). 7 injured.
- 2006 San Francisco SUV rampage, 2006 case of a paranoid schizophrenic man from Afghanistan using an SUV to go on a rampage
- 2008 Akihabara massacre, mass murder using a truck and a dagger
- 2009 attack on the Dutch Royal Family, case of a man driving into spectators on Koninginnedag 2009 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands
- 2010 Hebei tractor rampage, 2010 mass murder using a bucket loader
- 2010 Mazda office car attack (ramming people). 1 dead, 11 injured.
- 2013 Tumon
- 2013 Venice, Los Angeles (one dead)
- 2014 Venezuelan protests, several cases of vehicle rammings during opposition protests by government supporters.
- 2014 Isla Vista killings; Vehicle ramming attack, Stabbings, Shootings. 7 Dead.
- 2014 Sopot attack, Poland (ramming people)
- 2014 Taipei attack against Presidential Office Building, Taiwan
- 2014 Dijon attack, France (ramming people)
- 2014 Nantes attack, France (ramming people)
- 2015 Graz attack, mass murder using an SUV and a knife
- 2016 Kalamazoo bicycle crash, 5 dead
- 2016 Scunthorpe road rage
- 2017 Venezuelan protests, several cases of vehicle rammings during opposition protests by security forces or government supporters.
- January 2017 Melbourne car attack in Melbourne, Australia in which six people were killed and 36 injured.
- 2017 Balneário Camboriú road rage
- 2017 Times Square car crash
- 2017 Heidelberg attack by mentally disturbed German student
- 2017 Müllrose, Germany, drug addict kills two cops while fleeing in stolen car after stabbing his grandmother to death
- 2017 Antwerp attack, failed car-ramming in Belgium
- 2017 Guatemala City, a car rammed into a student protest: 13 injured, one dead.
- 2017 Sandy, Utah attack, car-ramming and shooting in Sandy, Utah
- July 2017 Helsinki attack, Finland, ramming people
- August 2017 Helsinki attack, Finland, failed ramming
- 2017 Sept-Sorts car attack, France, ramming a pizzeria, killing a schoolgirl
- December 2017 car attack in Perth, Australia, with one dead, four injured, three seriously.
- February 2018 car attack in Perth, Australia, with two injured, in suburban Mullaloo.
- 2018 Münster vehicle ramming (ramming crowd at an outdoor café, killing four and injuring 23; perpetrator then took his own life)
- 2018 Toronto van attack (ramming people; 10 killed)
- 2018 Bessemer City, NC vehicle ramming
- September 12, 2018 car attack in Hengyang, China when a man drove a red SUV into a group of people and then began attacking them with a knife and a shovel. 11 were killed and 44 were wounded.
- November 11, 2018 car and stabbing attack on a road and at a shopping mall in Brăila, Romania. Attacker was under effects of drugs.
Motive not determined yet
- December 2017 Melbourne car attack in Melbourne, Australia in which 18 were injured and one person died.
- Accidental vehicle ramming causing multiple deaths or injuries to pedestrians or others also occurs, although rarely. Causes of such accidental mass-casualty vehicular ramming include drunk and drug–impaired driving or driver error by elderly drivers. See also sudden unintended acceleration.
- Road rage
- Hit and run
- Vehicular homicide
- Mass murder
- Stabbing as a terrorist tactic
- List of rampage killers (vehicular homicide)
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- Media related to Vehicle-ramming attacks at Wikimedia Commons