Although car and truck ramming attacks have happened throughout the 20th and 21st century as a generally crude way to inflict violence on unsuspecting civilians, over the last three years, no fewer than seven ramming attacks using either cars or large trucks have been perpetrated in western Europe.
In all but one case, Salifst style jihadism has been the motive. Typically, ISIS also takes credit for the attacks, whether or not anyone in the ISIS controlled regions of the MENA actually had anything to do with planning the attacks or not.
This must lead one to question why cars and trucks are increasingly the weapon of choice of Salifist terrorists operating in Europe.
Here is a list of the various ramming attacks to befall Europe since 2014.
1. Dijon, France – 21 December 2014.
Just prior to the French Christmas holiday, a man chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in the style of moderate head-choppers in Syria, drove a small van through the city for over half an hour. Eleven people were injured but thankfully none killed.
Oddly, in spite of the man chanting in the manner of known terrorist such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, state owned British broadcaster BBC claimed that the lone lunatic’s rampage did not constitute a terrorist attack.
The mind boggles!
2. Nantes, France – 22 December 2014.
In a copycat attack. A Frenchman who was described as a deranged alcoholic drove a small van into a group of people at a Christmas market. One man was killed, 10, including the assailant were injured. The terrorist later killed himself in prison. The act was a clear act of terrorism, though apparently not directly motivated by Salifst extremism.
3. Saint-Quentin-Fallavier – France. 26 June, 2015.
A French citizen of Algeria and Moroccan descent rammed his van into gas cylinders at a factory, causing an explosion which killed one.
The suspect had ties to ISIS and had even travelled to Syria, ostensibly for studies, but more likely to join radical Salifist fighters.
He later killed himself in prison.
4. Nice, France – 14 July 2016.
A Tunisian man drove a large truck into a group of people celebrating Bastille Day. 87 died including the terrorist. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
To date this remains the most deadly ramming attack in Europe.
5. Berlin, Germany – 19 December 2016
After hijacking a large truck and killing the Polish driver, a Tunisian man drove into a crowded Berlin Christmas market.
12 people are killed and 56 are injured.
The terrorist was later shot dead by Italian police after fleeing to Milan.
6. London, UK – 22 March 2017.
A British citizen of Pakistani descent drove a car into crowds outside of the British Parliament.
4 people including the terrorist were killed. It is almost certain that the killer was motivated by extremist Salifism.
ISIS later claimed responsibility.
7. Antwerp, Belgium – 23 March 2017
What can be learned from all of this?
The most obvious answer is that one cannot ban cars and trucks. But this seemingly obvious statement hints at a more nuanced and important reality.
Political pundits from the comparatively gun-free cultures of western Europe often deride the United States for its Second Amendment, which allows people to bear arms (own and in many cases openly carry guns).
In many US states, in order to purchase a gun one must go through a personal background check and register the firearm. In some states such as New York and California, the process is exceedingly difficult.
By contrast, buying and renting a car in Europe is simple. No background checks necessary. If one borrows a car, something which is prima facie easier than borrowing a gun, it is even more simple.
There are of course illegal arms markets in all countries. In Europe, the instability and organised crime rife in the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo, has allowed the illegal arms trade (as well as the organ trade, drug trade and human trafficking) to flourish.
In America, the regulated firearm is the weapon of choice for the majority of law abiding people who purchase guns for self-defence and for sporting activities. However, the registration process and background checks in many US states mean that it is technically far easier to trace who has purchased a gun in the US than it is to track who has got his hands on a car or truck in Europe.
More importantly, anyone with a driving licence can rent or purchase a vehicle in Europe. In the US, various suspicious backgrounds including a criminal record, can more often than not, prohibit one from legally purchasing a gun.
This is not to say that legal gun ownership is necessarily the answer,to Europe’s terrorist car/truck ramming problem. But it does make it clear that the picture of gunless societies as violence and terrorism free paradises, is simply a lie.
A car can be more dangerous than a small firearm. If unstopped, a speeding vehicle could continue maiming and killing, long after a handgun runs out of bullets.
But no one could sanely argue that cars and trucks should be banned or severely limited. Stopping crime often deals with stamping out the root causes of crime.
In the case of terrorism, one would be wise to not fund and arm Salifists in countries like Syria for a start. Britain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands Germany and America share this guilt.
Secondly, tracing people with mental illnesses or public connections to Salifist groups, would be a far more accurate way of trying to prevent such attacks than banning the weapons themselves, especially when the weapon of choice is something that is logically un-bannable (the car/truck).
Lastly, there is an argument that if normal law abiding citizens are allowed to carry firearms, that it would help ordinary people put a stop to attacks at the earliest possible moment. After Paris attacks of 2015, Donald Trump suggested that ordinary French citizens with guns could have prevented the attacks from escalating.
As a British police officer was one of the victims of the recent attack in London, one does just wonder if perhaps Trump’s suggestion ought to be investigated more thoroughly, even though the mainstream media ridiculed it at the time.
When the weapon of choice is something not normally thought of as a weapon, one must realise that preventing terrorism is less about restraining the tools of violence and more about ending the symptoms which breed violence in the first place, in addition to a larger police presence in all major public areas.