Mineta Publishes Study of Foiled Attacks on Public Transportation

By Carlton Purvis

Many terror plots against public transportation start with unrealistic aspirations that are eventually scaled down to meet realistic capability, according to a newly released report from a transportation research group that provides insight into terrorist weapons and tactics against ground transportation.

Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) this week released a new report of a study that examined 13 terrorist plots against public surface transportation that were uncovered or foiled by authorities between 1997 and 2010.

"We can learn much from terrorists' failures because they provide insights into terrorist ambitions, clues to possible new directions in tactics and weapons, and details about how the plots evolve. These details often are more difficult to discern when an attack has succeeded and its perpetrators are dead or have fled," said Brian Michael Jenkins, one of the principal investigators.

All of the plots examined by MTI were products of groups looking to be a part of a “global armed struggle,” says the San Jose State University-based research center.

From 2001-2004, would-be terrorists focused on various forms of chemical attack, possibly inspired by the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system MTI says, but none of them were successful. And because of the difficulty in acquiring chemical or biological substances in large quantities, the plots most likely would not have resulted in mass casualties MTI says.

Future attacks in Madrid and London “demonstrated that by using more-reliable explosive devices on trains and subways, terrorists could achieve the slaughter they desired. Multiple bombs became the new prototype for terrorist attack.” However, most plots were interrupted before plotters even decided on a place and a time.

“Public surface transportation systems are necessarily open and therefore unavoidably vulnerable targets. Further analysis is needed to determine what physical measures actually work and how they do,” the report concludes.

Read the full report, Carnage Interrupted: An Analysis of Fifteen Terrorist Plots Against Public Surface Transportation, on the Mineta Transportation Institute Web site.

photo by barry.pousman/flickr


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