Militants are increasingly turning to vehicle-ramming attacks, like the one staged near Britain’s parliament on Wednesday, because they are cheap, easy to organize and hard to prevent.
Experts say the tactic of mowing people down avoids the need to obtain any explosives or weapons and can be carried out by a “lone-wolf” attacker without using a network of fellow militants - all lessening the risk of alerting security agencies.
“It is often a case of individual action,” Sebastien Pietrasanta, a French Socialist lawmaker and terrorism expert told Reuters. “They can be quite spontaneous.”
Former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar said that, while concern had long focused on “sophisticated or high-tech methods of terrorist attack, the most readily available methods for killing a lot of innocent people have always been simple and require no sophistication or training.
“This includes mowing people down with a vehicle on any crowded city street. Locations might be chosen that have some other political or religious significance - such as a Christmas market, or the vicinity of a national parliament - but there always are vulnerable public places with lots of people,” he said.
Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism, a European thinktank, said Wednesday’s attack seemed to be “rudimentary in its conception.”
Anne Giudicelli, head of security consultancy Terr(o)risc in Paris, said the extra vigilance over large cities had helped to spawn a change in the militants’ approach.
“Every time you put in place a new measure after an attack or a thwarted attack, the assailants adapt to get around the measures in place and find the gaps,” she said.
Tyson Barker, program director with the Aspen Institute thinktank in Germany, said the London attack underscored the difficulty of protecting “soft” targets, and the trade-offs between security and liberty in open Western societies.
“You can never eliminate the possibility of an attack. The intent is to close down that openness so the response has to be smart analytics, resilience, vigilance, but not anything that would close down that openness, which is the exact thing that we’re trying to preserve,” Barker said.
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