A Tunisian man living in France plowed a large truck through the ultimate “soft target” — thousands of Bastille Day revelers who had gathered to watch fireworks in an open venue at the French resort city of Nice — quickly killing at least 84 people and wounding another 202 during a national holiday akin to America’s Fourth of July.
Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, the long stretch of boardwalk and seaside road where the attack took place, “would have been nearly impossible to police and to secure,” The Washington Post (WaPo) learned from Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert and the director of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
The Post reports:
Like soccer stadiums, shopping malls and cafes, the promenade in Nice was what is often referred to as a ‘soft target’ — a public place often difficult to protect because of its high profile, transient population and plethora of entry and exit points. Attacking soft targets has been the hallmark of modern terrorism, yet according to Hoffman, the attack in Nice could be a crucial step forward for the organizations that are trying to damage the fabric of liberal Western societies.
The July 14 carnage ended only after police killed the armed truck driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who was able to drive onto a sidewalk for more than a mile.
Using a large truck allowed Bouhlel, one man, “to kill more people than the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Orlando did combined,” notes WaPo.
His victims include children — 10 who died and many who are in critical condition. Overall, of the 202 injured victims, 25 are on life support and 52 in critical condition.
The attack has been deemed to likely be the deadliest terrorist attack ever in France by a lone attacker.
Wesley Wark, a security expert and professor at the University of Ottawa, noted that attacks on “soft targets” are a “jihadist fantasy” because they fuel maximum fear and can be carried out anywhere.
“It is much harder to protect soft targets such as crowds — a headache for organizers of public events such as fireworks displays, sports tournaments and festivals,” reports NBC News, noting that “the massacre of families enjoying a national celebration in France underscores fears that the use of vehicles as weapons in themselves is a growing threat in the United States and other Western countries.”
Some analysts warn that the West needs to prepare for an increase in copycat terrorist attacks against “soft targets” using any means available, following the Nice rampage.
“The high-impact/low-capability nature of the attack raises the risk of the repeated use of the tactic in France and allied countries in the coming months,” declared Matthew Henman, chief of the IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, which tracks terror groups.
Although no specific group has claimed responsibility for the Nice attack, both al-Qaeda and its rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have urged jihadists to carry out vehicular assaults against Western countries in the absence of more conventional weapons.
“That’s the message these groups are trying to push: ‘You’re never going to be safe.’ It’s a strategy they’ve been pushing the last few years, and unfortunately, now it’s being realized,” Hoffman told The Post.
ISIS and al Qaeda supporters have celebrated the Nice attack online. The terrorists assault bears the hallmarks of recent attacks carried out or inspired by ISIS, according to some experts.
The Herald Sun reports:
Confirming who is responsible will take time but all the signs point to [Islamic State] IS. The combination of a ‘soft target’ of ordinary people enjoying the simple pleasure of a night out with friends and family, or going about their business in a public place, and an attacker prepared to throw away their life in a callous attack echo the circumstances of Paris in November, Brussels in March and Istanbul last month.