Third such assault in Europe in less than a year; Islamic state has specifically called on sympathizers to use vehicles to kill
By: Robert Wall
LONDON—The assailant in a deadly attack here Wednesday that left four people dead, including the attacker, used a weapon increasingly common in recent terrorist attacks: a road vehicle that typically draws little notice but can kill with devastating effect.
Details of the attack aren’t yet clear, but officials are calling it a terrorist incident. Just before 2:40 p.m., a small sport-utility vehicle slammed into pedestrians and police officers on Westminster Bridge, which spans the River Thames just in front of Westminster Palace, home of the British Parliament and a popular tourist spot. Two people were killed, and 40 injured, according to authorities.
The driver of the vehicle—police said they believed there was only one—then made it onto the grounds of Parliament, where this person stabbed a police officer to death before being shot and killed.
After saying Wednesday night that four people had been killed by the attacker, police on Thursday gave a lower death toll, saying that three people, including the officer killed at Parliament, had died.
It was the third major attack in Europe in less than a year in which a vehicle was used to kill individuals in incidents that authorities labeled terrorist attacks or terrorist-inspired attacks. Islamic State, the terror group that has claimed responsibility for a handful of attacks in Europe, has specifically called on sympathizers to use vehicles to kill.
There was no claim of responsibility for the London attack, though SITE Intel Group, which tracks global jihadist activity, said Islamic State supporters were celebrating.
The potential for using a car or truck to kill large numbers of people hit home this past July 14. An attacker in Nice, France, used a rental truck to plow into crowds celebrating the French national day along that city’s seaside promenade, killing 86. He died in an exchange of gunfire with French police.
When Vehicles Were Used as Weapons
Glasgow: Two men drove a Jeep carrying gas canisters into the entrance of Glasgow International Airport, where it burst into flames.Flames rise from the Jeep after the incident.Photo: Associated Press
Tokyo: Tomohiro Kato drove a truck into a popular pedestrian shopping street, killing three men with the vehicle before stabbing 14 people, fatally wounding four.Rescue workers gather at the site of the incident.Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Apeldoorn, Netherlands: In an attempted attack on the Dutch royal family, a man rammed his car through parade route crowds, killing seven bystanders and injuring 10.Police officers are seen near the driver of the car.
Tel Aviv: One man was killed and 16 others injured after a truck crashed into several vehicles and pedestrians on a crowded Tel Aviv roadway. The driver denied intentionally causing the collision.Israeli rescue workers attend the scene.
Beijing: Five people were killed and 40 more injured after a Jeep crashed in front of the Forbidden City. Chinese police described it as a terrorist attack.People walk along the sidewalk of Chang’an Avenue as smoke rises in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City.
Dijon and Nantes, France: A driver shouting Islamic phrases ran down 13 pedestrians in a half-hour span in Dijon, seriously injuring two. The next day, another man drove into a crowd of holiday shoppers in Nantes, wounding 11 people.Police officers guard the van that crashed into a French Christmas market in Nantes, western France.
Nice, France: A truck struck a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. The incident took place on the famous Promenade des Anglais during a firework display.Bodies lie on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
Berlin: A truck drove onto the sidewalk at a Christmas market in the German capital. At least a dozen people were killed and around 50 were injured.A view of the truck that crashed into the Christmas market.
Islamic State “saw the deadly potential in such attacks, and doubled down on inciting them,” said Rita Katz, executive director at SITE.
Islamic State published a guide for vehicle attacks, citing the high casualty count in Nice. “Vehicles are like knives, as they are extremely easy to acquire,” according to one reference in the guide, provided and authenticated by SITE. “But unlike knives, which if found in one’s possession can be a cause for suspicion, vehicles arouse absolutely no doubts due to their widespread use throughout the world.”
Another truck attack took place on Dec. 19, 2016, in Berlin. A Tunisian, who had lived in Germany for many years, hijacked a truck and drove it into a Christmas market, leaving 12 people dead. The assailant was killed by Italian police near Milan days later after an international manhunt.
Vehicles have become a weapon of choice because “people copy success,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a counterterrorism expert at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute.
Such attacks haven’t been limited to Europe. In 2014, an attacker in a rural town in Quebec, Canada, struck two members of the Canadian military with a car, killing one and injuring the other. The assailant was shot and killed by police after a car chase.
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