Use of Rental Vehicles by Terrorists Continues to be A Major Concern Going into 2019

On the first day of 2019 in Tokyo, Japan, Kazuhiro Kusakabe, 21, committed an act of terrorism by using a rental car as a weapon to ram into pedestrians on Harajuku’s famed Takeshita Street. Attacks like these have been seen in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States but not in countries like Japan.

Takeshita Street, Tokyo, Japan on a regular day. Based on the significant pedestrian traffic the attacker saw this as a prime target.


Although this type of attack is not a new one, these types of attacks have significantly increased since al Qaeda released its call to use a vehicle to conduct a terrorist attack in its Inspire Magazine Fall 2010 edition. In this edition it states, “Pick your location and timing carefully. Go for the most crowded locations. Narrower spots are also better because it gives less chance for the people to run away. Avoid locations where other vehicles may intercept you.


“To achieve maximum carnage, you need to pick up as much speed as you can while still retaining good control of your vehicle in order to maximize your inertia and be able to strike as many people as possible in your first run. Keep in mind that as soon as people realize what you are up to, they would scatter and run in every direction looking for cover. They would look for areas where the vehicle cannot reach them. Therefore, it is important to study your path of operation beforehand.


“The ideal location is a place where there are a maximum number of pedestrians and the least number of vehicles. In fact if you can get through to “pedestrian only” locations that exist in some downtown (city center) areas, that would be fabulous.”

Based on how the Takeshita Street attack was carried out it seems that the attacker utilized all of the guidance provided in this edition of al Qaeda’s magazine. The guidance provided suggests that the ideal situation would be to get a truck and modify it with steel butcher blade in the front. More recently we have seen that attackers have abandoned this idea because it might not be practical and may draw too much attention. Instead, we are seeing increased use of rental vehicles (cars, trucks, and vans) being used to attack pedestrians. This is a major concern for security and law enforcement officials around the world.


In the United States the “Vehicular Terrorism Prevention Act of 2018” was just signed into law in December 2018. This act has two objectives: “(1) assess the activities the Department of Homeland Security is undertaking to support emergency response providers and the private sector to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the threat of vehicular terrorism; and (2) based on such assessment, develop and submit to the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate a strategy to improve the Department's efforts to support the efforts of emergency response providers and the private sector to prevent, mitigate, and respond to such threat.”


In the United Kingdom the British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA), which is the UK trade body for companies engaged in vehicle rental, leasing and fleet management has released for use by their members a number of counterterrorism resources and trainings to help stop the use of rental vehicles being used in terrorist attacks. In December 2017 The BVRLA Member Services Director Nora Leggett said: “Together, as a vehicle rental community, we must do all we can to deter terrorists from seeing our sector as a source of vehicle acquisition for use in acts of terror.


“It is in all our interests to do our bit to protect ourselves from terrorism. By being proactive at communicating deterrent messaging, our sector can do its bit to help.”


Since then the BVRLA has continued to explore ways to work with law enforcement and counterterrorism forces in the UK to support counterterrorism activity and deter the use of rental vehicles as weapons of choice for terrorists. In November 2018 they released a Counter-Terrorism Resource Pack to help those operating in the vehicle sector to mitigate the risk of an extremist attack.


As The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) analyzes these attacks there is a major concern by its intelligence analysts that 2019 will see more of these type of attacks. Although great work is being seen by certain groups representing the rental and leasing of vehicles industry it is recommended by CTG that more needs to be done with venue security. There are still too many vulnerable areas that attackers have found to be good areas to target around the world. CTG recommends that security officials for various venues that attract large crowds of people around the world need to take this threat seriously and develop and implement measures to mitigate this type of attack. No one should assume that because nothing has happened in their area or country that they are safe and do not need to worry about this type of attack.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) can assist rental and leasing car companies and industry associations in developing and implementing counterterrorism strategies to prevent the use of their vehicles in attacks. We can also help venues assess their vulnerabilities to threats and develop security plan to prevent attacks. Please contact us if you need any assistance.


1) The Picture of Takeshita Street is from Chris 73 on Wikipedia. This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Takeshita_street_view.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

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