Terrorist Attacks With Cars Are Happening In All Corners Of The World

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A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly on Saturday when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one. The driver has been charged with second-degree murder, and the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the attack. It was just one of several recent incidents of "car terrorism" — that is, when somebody executes a terror attack using a car or other land-based vehicle as their weapon.

There have been at least eight car terrorism incidents in 2017 so far: Three in London, one in Stockholm, one in Nice, one in Paris, one in Jerusalem, and one in Charlottesville. In some of the incidents, the attacker(s) exited their vehicles and began stabbing or shooting bystanders; in other cases, they simply plowed their vehicle into a crowd of people.

It's not coincidence: Terrorist groups have been encouraging their followers to use cars or trucks to carry out attacks for years. In a 2010 issue of its online recruitment magazine, al-Qaeda claimed that pickup trucks are an effective way to "mow down the enemies of Allah," and devoted three pages to explaining how the group's followers could "strike as many people as possible in your first run" when using a vehicle as a weapon. Four years later, an ISIS spokesman said that if members of the group come across a "disbeliever," they should "run him over with your car." ISIS again recommended the use of trucks in terror attacks in a 2016 issue of its own online magazine.

There are several reasons why car terrorism appeals to violent extremists. For one, when compared to something like a gun or a bomb, a car is a relatively inconspicuous weapon. Slamming a car into a throng of people also creates a uniquely horrifying spectacle, and additionally, creates the impression that a terrorist could strike at any moment. In other words, it fulfills the key objective of terrorism: To terrorize.

"Terrorists rely on a lot of people watching — it can be even better than having a lot of people dead,” a terrorism expert at King's College told the Washington Post after one of the London attacks. "Every television station in Europe and America will be carrying [footage of the attack] tonight and tomorrow.”

As for the driver in the Charlottesville attack, he appeared in court on Monday, where he was denied bail. The judge said that he was unable to appoint a public defender to represent the assailant, as somebody linked to the public defender's office had been injured in the attack itself.