For a little more than a year, Americans have watched vehicular terrorist attacks strike Barcelona, Stockholm, Berlin, London and Nice — and on Tuesday, the deadly threat was carried out in America’s most populated city.
“It was really only a matter of time, I think, before these tactics migrated here,” said Colin Clarke, a political scientist with the RAND Institute. “In fact, I’m surprised it took so long for us to experience something like that. It was going to happen here.”
A motorist in a rented pickup truck killed eight people and injured 15 others after barreling down a bike path in lower Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon. Officials called it an “act of terror,” making it the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001, where more than 2,700 people were killed in New York alone.
Clarke said that while law enforcement in New York has “taken great lengths to prevent these types of attacks after 9/11,” the very nature of large urban centers makes them vulnerable.
Former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said that vehicle attacks have “been occurring around the world with increasing frequency.”
“The pace of attacks around the world has been picking up,” he said
The suspect in Tuesday’s attack was identified as a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant named Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov who entered the U.S. in 2010, law enforcement officials told NBC News. The gunman hopped out of the truck and shouted “Allahu Akbar” before firing a BB or pellet gun, four senior law enforcement sources said. The suspect was then shot in the abdomen by a police officer.
Law enforcement sources said he left a note in the truck claiming he committed the attack for ISIS.
While authorities are still investigating the attack, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “particularly cowardly act of terror.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo added that this appeared to be the work of a “lone wolf.”
“There’s no evidence to suggest a wider plot,” he said.
Clarke said the rise of using vehicles in terrorist attacks marked a significant shift in tactics from the major attacks orchestrated by al Qaeda and related groups in years past.
“Essentially it’s the full circle of terrorism in many ways,” he said. “Al Qaeda set the bar so high with the attacks of 9/11 that for a while they were reticent to do anything less than that.”
But now extremist groups such as ISIS have called for attacks using simpler means that are easier to carry out.
“A motorized vehicle is an obvious killer weapon and New York City was the perfect target. I’m afraid there will be more like this,” said Michael Nacht, a national security expert and professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley.
Other types of attacks require more planning or resources and are easier to detect, said Rick Mathews, a homeland security expert at the State University of New York at Albany.