A van attack Thursday that killed 13 and injured dozens more along a shopping street in Spain demonstrated the difficulty protecting people in open areas, after similar vehicular assaults during the past year in France, Germany and England.
The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack. As official buildings and transportation hubs have become more fortified, security officials have warned for years that terrorists could target anywhere large crowds gather.
Attacks with bombs and guns have spilled from airports to subway stations to open areas at concerts, sporting events and even roadways.
“We’re going to see more of this,” said Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.
“What you are seeing is a string of ISIS related truck attacks,” he added, since an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula magazine called Inspire encouraged supporters in 2010 to turn trucks into the “ultimate mowing machine.”
Security officials increasingly stress the need for intelligence to thwart terrorist attacks before they reach a physical barrier or screening checkpoint.
“We will not let terrorism become the new normal,” Elaine Duke, acting secretary of homeland security, said in a statement after the Barcelona attack. “DHS will continue its efforts to raise the baseline of our security across the board and to work with foreign partners to help them do the same.”
More than 130 people in the U.S. have been indicted for supporting the Islamic State financially or with plans to travel to Syria or by planning attacks, Pape said. Intelligence services are racing to catch terrorists who don’t need to meet anyone from the Islamic State for training, he said.
“They’re racing the clock because that you’re seeing is propaganda calling for more attacks and inspiring more people to do these attacks,” Pape said. “We’ve had an amazing amount of success in preventing attacks.”
Other terror attacks with vehicles in Europe in the last year include:
►In London on June 3, three knife-wielding assailants in a white van sped across London Bridge, killing eight and injuring dozens while ramming pedestrians and then knifing shoppers in the nearby Borough Market.
►In Berlin, a man drove a stolen van at a holiday market in December 2016, killing 12 and injuring dozens.
►In Nice, France, a man drove a rental truck into a crowd on Bastille Day in July 2016, killing 86 and injuring hundreds.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi ordered his city’s flags at half-mast, in solidarity with Barcelona.
“Once again, the barbarism struck at the heart of Europe with the most cowardly mode of operation,” Estrosi tweeted.