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Active Assailant Strategies Using Vehicles

April 24th, 2017


Active shooter and lethal assailant strategies are becoming the next possible trend in favored terrorist tactics against soft target locations. The horrific attack last year along the beachfront in Nice, France at the Bastille Day celebratory fireworks that killed 84 and wounded dozens more has provided a demonstration of an easy means of lethal attack to others. Smaller scale but similar attacks have now happened on a college campus at Ohio State and most recently in London. I think this is just the beginning of a new trend for mass killing with a tool that is readily available to anyone – a vehicle. The initial reports on the incident in Nice stating that is was a ‘lone wolf’ scenario were not accurate. It was well planned and premeditated as cell phone records, computer data, and other intelligence sources indicated. Multiple suspects were arrested, suspected of being accomplices in the planning stages. The scariest dynamic of this incident and the others that have followed, however, is the sheer simplicity of the weapon of choice. Yes, the Nice attacker Mohamed Bouhlel did have a firearm, but that was not the primary killing instrument used. A heavily loaded truck can be quite a destructive force. A very disturbing precedent has been set, and it is being copied on perhaps a smaller scale with normal sized vehicles.

Besides guns and IEDs, we now have to worry about vehicular attacks at places where people gather. Make no mistake; the effectiveness and ease of these attacks will inspire others with evil intentions without the means to acquire guns or explosives. This attack method brings into question how to secure large gatherings of people for holiday and sporting events, outdoor public celebrations, or even large lines of people waiting to enter crowded venues. The list is endless and presents a security challenge that is not easily met. The permanent types of vehicular barriers (bollards, heavy planters, and rising wedge/delta type barriers) typically seen around buildings to stop onrushing vehicles are great, and that may have to become more of the norm in security-conscious construction. However, what can be done about temporary gatherings or conditions that would present the same vulnerability? The temporary tools that come to mind are:

  • The moveable jersey barriers that are used in highway construction projects and Embassy complexes around the world (multiple layers of them would have to be used to stop a large truck)
  • Arranging large parked trucks for protection
  • Devices to destroy tires of any on-rushing vehicles – outside of the barriers
  • Roadblocks surrounding an event and concentric perimeter zones checking credentials and each visitors’ purpose
  • Closing off roads surrounding an event. (if the scale of the event warrants)

None of these are guarantees, but if used creatively and perhaps in layers or combinations they might afford some protection, if not a deterrent. Then there will always be the question about cost and ‘do we really need this’ type of thinking. This will haunt security professionals for quite some time. For example, what will become the standard for large sports venues regarding this type of threat as the crowds gather for entry? I think about it when I am standing in those lines with my family. I wish I had more answers. Tactics will always change, and we will have to be innovative enough to react accordingly and even try to foresee what we really don’t want to.

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