Why are cars used as terrorizing weapons of destruction?
Quebec, Ohio, Berlin, Nice, London, Stockholm, and now even Barcelona have all become sites of automobile attacks, intended to run over civilians. These attacks have largely been claimed as Islamist attacks, highlighting a unique pattern of vehicles being used as weapons of terror.
21st-century terrorism has long been defined by hijacked planes and triggered bombs. But a pattern emerging of automobiles being used as a means of terrorist violence has begun to change that narrative. In 2014, a man by the name of Martin Rouleau Couture ran over two Canadian soldiers, killing one and leaving the other injured. The Quebec native was a recent Muslim convert and according to those close to him, who had begun adopting extremist views early on in his conversion, going so far as to say that he dreamt of dying as a martyr.
On October 20th, Couture struck the two soldiers with his car in a strip mall parking lot days before another infamous incident took place in the country’s capital – the 2014 Parliament Hill shootings. The vehicular assault marked the beginning of a pattern, whether intentional or not, of cars being used as weapons in terrorist attacks. Three years later, another radicalized man used his vehicle to strike soldiers, this time in Jerusalem. On January 8th, 2017, Fadi Qunbar plowed a large truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing 4 people and leaving at least another 10 injured. Prime minister Netanyahu claimed that the man was an ISIS sympathizer, also claiming that the recent attacks in Berlin and France were connected.
The attack in Berlin he was referring to was the Christmas market attack that saw 24-year-old Anis Amri ram a tractor trailer into a crowd of market-goers, killing 12 and leaving 48 injured. Amri had contacts with radical Islamic organizations in Germany and Italy, with ISIS subsequently claiming responsibility for inspiring the attack and Amri pledging allegiance to the terrorist group shortly before dying in a shoot out with police in Italy.
In Nice, another man by the name Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel struck a crowd of spectators on Bastille day 2016, killing 84 people and leaving 200 hurt. And again similar attacks have happened in London, Stockholm, and now in Barcelona where a van assault killed 13 people and left at least 100 injured.
These attacks, while scattered and presenting no evidence of explicit coordination, represent a dangerous growing popularity in the use of automobiles as weapons of terror. Automobiles, unlike armed weapons and explosive devices, are easily accessible. They are unassuming and unsuspicious until after the attacks have already happened. Beyond that, trucks and other large vehicles can cause substantial damage. A number of victims killed and injured in these numerous attacks represent a significant number of people who have lost their lives at the hands of instruments not designed to be weapons, yet can cause havoc nonetheless. And although recent events in Charlottesville seem to transcend automobiles as the tool of Islamism specifically, the phenomenon remains largely that of Islamic terrorism.
Previously, Al-Qaeda and ISIS have promoted the practice of vehicle assault, and with a “globalized” Islamist movement threatening attack in every corner of the world, vehicles represent a new era of terrorist weaponry. As more and more young people become radicalized by Islamist propaganda and choose to carry out attacks on civilians, the use of unconventional weaponry will rise. Indeed, those already inspired by previous vehicle attacks may use their own trucks and cars to carry out egregious acts. Vehicular terrorist attacks in this capacity have become the new faces of modern terrorism. They represent an issue of radicalism and violence that can only be answered by addressing the problem of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism in general. Without an adequate force to combat propaganda and terrorism, the car assault will continue to happen in major cities across the world and the world will see another Barcelona, Nice, London, and Quebec yet again and again.