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Securing against vehicle-borne attacks

NZ Security, August/September 2016

Terror delivery: One man, one truck, multiple casualties.Terror delivery: One man, one truck, multiple casualties.


In the wake of the recent Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, we speak with Carlton Ruffell, author of Protecting People in New Zealand, about protecting people and assets against vehicle-based threats.


At 10:30pm on Thursday 14 July 2016, a large truck ploughed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, killing at least 80 people and injuring scores of others. Witnesses reported that the driver was ‘zigzagging’ through the 1,000 to 1,500-strong crowd and firing as he drove.

It’s a chilling scenario that residents of the postcard French Riviera tourist city could not have imagined would happen. But happen, it did. And all it took was a man and a truck.

Rewind to Budget day in May last year, and media reported panicked scenes of people fleeing the Parliament buildings in Wellington after a utility vehicle was driven onto the forecourt with smoke seen billowing from it. Police removed five canisters and a box from the vehicle, and Parliament went into lockdown just over two hours before Finance Minister Bill English was due to deliver his 2016 Budget.

A different day, a different intent, and a different type of incident. But all it took was a man and a ute.


Use of vehicles in targeted violence

According to Ruffell, vehicles are attractive because of their availability, the damage they can do and because most people can drive. “Vehicles are not hard to get a hold of like an assault rifle or explosives, and you don’t need to smuggle them through check-points,” he says. “For these reasons, groups in the Middle East have used buses and diggers to attack targets previously.”

According to security consultancy Asero Worldwide, utilising a vehicle or truck to carry out a large scale terror attack is by no means a new modus operandi. In July 2008, a terrorist attacked several cars in Jerusalem using a bulldozer, killing three people and injuring 30 others before being shot to death. There have been three copycat attacks carried in Israel out since that attack,” states an Asero brief, “including an attack in August 2014 in which a Palestinian terrorist slammed a construction tractor into a bus in Jerusalem.”

But such attacks are not limited to the Middle East. In late October 2013, central Beijing tasted terror when a flaming SUV rammed a crowd of tourists at the city’s iconic Tiananmen gate, killing three alleged perpetrators and two bystanders, and injuring 40. The foot of the imposing building, which bears a massive portrait of Chairman Mao and forms the northern edge of Tiananmen Square, is a renown photo-snapping stop for tour groups.

Ruffell says that such attacks are often the diminutive result of what may have begun as a very grand plan.

“Sometimes these plans involve explosives (which are hard to get) or skills which they don’t have, such as using a sniper’s rifle. These plans normally devolve over time as the planner realises they don’t have the skills or material for their original intent. For example, blowing something up might become, drive a car into it.”


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“When packed with explosives and left to explode or used as a SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device), vehicles can produce a wide area of destruction and many casualties due to the amount of explosive that can be packed on board,” he says. Using a person and a vehicle as a “smart” delivery method gets a large amount of explosive and casualty causing shrapnel close to a target.



“Iconic targets such as Parliament and foreign embassies in New Zealand constantly update their risk assessments and balance selected countermeasures against the goals of their organisations, “ he suggests.  Depending on what type of threats are anticipated and what type of location is being protected, there are many countermeasures deployed to keep vehicles clear from assets.

According to Ruffell, a common defence is the popular “planter box”, which is positioned a set distance away from a building. But if there is a need to allow vehicles to enter or get close to the building then movable barriers, such as rising bollards, are options. These can control traffic by being lowered when an approved vehicle approaches, while allowing pedestrians and cyclists to pass through.  They can be operated by remote key fobs or transmitters, or automatically triggered using ground loops.

Rising bollards have proven successful in preventing terrorist vehicle ramming attacks, such as the 2007 attack on Glasgow International Airport. In 30 June 2007, a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane canisters was driven into the doors of the Glasgow airport terminal and set ablaze. Although the doors were damaged, security bollards outside the entrance stopped the car from entering the terminal, and the building returned to business-as-usual within hours.

The typical ‘barrier arm’, however, which raises and lowers to indicate if a vehicle should enter or not is, according to Ruffell, no defence against most vehicles.  “They rely on our willingness not to break the rules rather than actively delaying or stopping a car,” he says.  “These barriers are regularly bent and broken by people who find themselves stuck in a parking building and who want to get out!”

The bottom line is that countermeasures need to be commensurate with the anticipated threat.  “If you think a truck sized SVBIED might be used, then countermeasures must be considerable,” he advises.  “These often involve large amounts of steel and concrete anchored to the ground, however, there are some elegant designs that provide security and maintain the aesthetic of an area.”

The big challenge to countering the SVBIED threat is posed by securing large-scale public celebrations, such as the Bastille Day scenario in Nice, or any event where crowds take to the streets to celebrate or where they spill out onto streets from designated venues. In such situations, in-built physical countermeasures are not likely to be an option, and carefully planned intelligence analysis, surveillance and street cordoning, etc, need to be coordinated.

Professor Clive Williams of the Australian National University's Centre for Military and Security Law has recommended that Australia introduce vehicle exclusion zones for public events, suggesting that Anzac Day parades are obvious potential targets for vehicle attacks. "Use of a vehicle as a terrorist weapon means that there does not need to be much attack lead-time and it does not provide the usual indicators associated with a planned terrorist attack," he told The Canberra Times.

In the case of Nice, states the Asero brief, although not immediately, police at the scene did identify the incident to be an attack and were able to shoot and kill the attacker. It recommended the importance of discussions and training with law enforcement and security personnel “on recognising when an incident is, in fact, a terror attack and to implement the necessary rules of engagement accordingly.”


Carlton Ruffell PSP CPP, director of Ruffell and Associates Ltd, has directed protective security strategies for diplomats, Members of Parliament and military personnel in New Zealand and in high-risk conflict zones overseas. He is a former Security Information Officer for New Zealand’s Parliamentary Service, and has served in the NZ Police and NZDF.


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