Terror warning for NJ residents — watch out for vehicle-ramming attacks
In April, a truck rammed into a busy department store in Sweden, killing four people and injuring 15.
One month earlier, six people lost their lives — including the attacker — when a car rammed pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge.
In November, a man drove his car into pedestrians and stabbed several people at Ohio State University.
From just 2014 to 2017, terrorists carried out 17 known "vehicle ramming attacks" worldwide, according to the feds. And security officials on the federal and state level agree this will likely be a continued method of violence due to the success of past attacks, the ease of vehicle acquisition, and the unlikelihood of premature detection.
New Jersey, fortunately, has not been the site of a vehicle-borne terrorist attack. But since 2007, vehicles were used as weapons in nine attacks in the West, according to the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
"This is just a tactic where it’s very difficult to detect and deter unless somebody sees something and says something," Homeland Security Deputy Director Steven Gutkin told New Jersey 101.5. "People need to be always paying attention to their surroundings, and people should be not afraid to report something when it just doesn’t seem right."
Gutkin said terror organizations understand it's much harder today, compared to the pre-9/11 era, to carry out large-scale attacks. And homegrown violent extremists are inspired by these organizations to "create as much panic and chaos" wherever they may be.
"Having people that might just act on their own, without having being directed from a foreign terrorist organization — that’s the threat that we face today here in the United States and in New Jersey, specifically," Gutkin said, citing the recent arrest of a Point Pleasant man who allegedly had plans to build and detonate a bomb for ISIS. A man from Elizabeth is charged with setting off a pipe bomb in September along a charity race route in Seaside Park, and planting another two bombs in Manhattan.
The office has released an "infrastructure protection resource sheet" geared towards those managing security at large outdoor public gatherings. "Vehicle as a weapon" is listed as one of the threats of most concern.
A seven-page report released this month by the TSA notes commercial vehicles "may be obtained for terrorist activity in a variety of ways." An authorized commercial vehicle driver could carry out the attack, the report says, or a terrorist could get behind the wheel by hijacking, theft or simply renting our purchasing a truck.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.