The news media wants to tie everything it can to the Charlottesville attack. Wolf Blitzer was worried just a couple of hours after yesterday’s van attack in Barcelona, Spain, which left at least 13 dead and over 100 injured. “There will be questions if what happened in Barcelona was at all, at all a copycat version of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, even though they may be different characters and different political ambitions. They used the same killing device, a vehicle going at high speed into a large group of pedestrians.”
The notion that Islamic terrorists, like those in Barcelona or the next day in Cambrils, Spain, got the idea for these attacks from Charlottesville is absurd. Europe’s first Islamic terror attack with a vehicle occurred in March 2002. Two cars were crashed through the main gate of a synagogue in Lyon, France. Fortunately, though, no one died.
ISIS has used vehicle attacks since 2014, even providing its followers with detailed instructions on the best method. These attacks are planned long in advance.
Vehicle attacks have occurred all over the world, with the three worst happening in Nice, France (86 dead); Xinjiang, China (39 dead); and Srinagar, India (38 dead). Others have occurred in London, Stockholm, Melbourne, East Jerusalem, Berlin, the Netherlands, and India. Islamic terrorists have clearly learned from each other, taking notice of highly successful attacks like the one in Nice.
Vehicle attacks are still rare, though they are becoming more frequent. Since 2000, there have been 11 terrorist van attacks with four or more fatalities, but six of those have occurred just this year. Two more occurred last year.
Europeans have been thinking about vehicle attacks for a while before Charlottesville. After an attack this April left five dead and 15 injured in Stockholm, there was even a discussion about establishing large, vehicle-free zones. Banning cars from an area is not the same as banning guns and hoping that terrorists will comply. Putting up barricades in pedestrian-heavy areas seems likely to stop vehicle attacks.
Terrorists who plan their attacks six months or even years in advance are going to find ways of getting their weapons into malls, movie theaters or restaurants. Gun-free zones actually lure attackers by ensuring that civilians will not be able to defend themselves. But large trucks like those used in Stockholm or Nice can’t easily get around concrete barricades.
A couple of things stand out about these vehicle attacks. While the US and the European Union share virtually the same per capita death rate from mass public shootings, the EU has had seven vehicle attacks with four or more fatalities whereas the US has had none.
Radical Muslims have committed 82% of the vehicle attacks with at least four deaths. If you include the 26 other vehicle attacks around the world with fewer fatalities, Islamic terrorists still account for three-quarters of all attacks.
Maybe the media will use any excuse to keep talking about Charlottesville and white supremacy. But it’s awfully American-centric to suggest that the much more deadly Barcelona attack may have been inspired by events in Charlottesville. This attack ought to re-focus attention on the much more serious threat of radical Islamic terrorism.