Sports and entertainment venues have begun banning vehicles from traveling near large crowds in the hope of deterring the nightmarish attacks like the one in New York on Tuesday that killed eight people and injured at least 15.
Boston police announced in April they will ban all vehicle traffic on popular Lansdowne Street, which runs behind left field in Fenway Park. They say the closure, which begins two hours before a game and ends when the crowd has dispersed, is a precaution and not a response to a specific threat. On game days, motorists will find the street blocked by concrete Jersey barriers, commonly known as K-rails.
"We're doing what we can and taking simple measures to ensure the safety of the neighborhood on game day," Officer Rachel McGuire, a Boston police spokeswoman, told The Boston Globe. "Hopefully, it will act as a deterrent."
The traffic restrictions follow four deadly vehicle-ramming attacks in Europe within the last year. In each case, terrorists used large trucks to plow into crowds of unsuspecting bystanders.
It is too soon to say how many other cities might take similar steps to protect large crowds at major venues. Last year, officials in Chicago rejected a request by Chicago Cubs officials to block off Clark and Addison streets near Wrigley Field.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., whose district includes the stadium, told a local radio station: "Forty-two thousand people is an attractive target for people who want to hurt us."
Windy City officials are leaving the streets open for now, but have conducted "traffic slowdowns" on the roadways. They have also installed concrete bollards to help separate pedestrians from passing vehicles. Cubs officials hope Boston's decision to shut down vehicular traffic near Fenway might spur Chicago officials to reconsider their decision.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration are clearly concerned about the vulnerability. A recent TSA alert warns trucking firms and local police that terrorists may resort to "vehicle ramming attacks." The agency is warning truck owners and truck-rental companies throughout the United States to be especially "vigilant," and to report any suspicious activity.
Of special concern: Any renter asking about altering truck trigger alarm bells, law enforcement officials say.
The report notes in the past three years, at least 173 people have been killed and more than 700 injured in 17 ramming attacks around the world.
TSA reports the ramming attacks use large trucks, adding terrorists "could target locations where large numbers of people congregate, including parades and other celebratory gatherings, sporting events, entertainment venues, or shopping centers."
No community, "large or small, rural or urban, is immune to attacks of this kind by organized or 'lone wolf' terrorists," the TSA also stated.
One frightening complication presented by terror trucks, from the perspective of law enforcement: Given their mass and speed, they are practically purpose-built for demolishing even heavy-duty security barriers.
"Commercial vehicles, distinguished by their large size, weight, and carrying capacity, present an especially attractive mechanism for vehicle ramming," states the TSA advisory, "because of the ease with which they can penetrate security barriers and the large-scale damage they can inflict on people and infrastructure."
Trucker Lyman Jones told CBS News: "This rig, at 80,000 pounds, at 40 miles per hour, it'll probably go two to three football fields through cars. It goes over a car like nothing. It could take down a building."
Among the attacks in Europe:
- On July 14, 2016, a Tunisian resident of France, said to be influenced by ISIS, drove a 19-ton cargo truck along a waterfront promenade in Nice, killing more than 86 people who had gathered to watch a Bastille Day fireworks display. Another 434 were injured.
- On Dec. 19, a Tunisian with ties to ISIS killed a truck driver, stole his truck, and used the 27-ton vehicle to plow into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany. The attack left 12 people dead and 56 injured.
- Yet another attack occurred in March, when an Islamic terrorist drove a vehicle into pedestrians in London, then stabbed a police officer to death near Parliament before he was shot and killed. Four pedestrians, including an American tourist, were killed in the ramming attack, and about 50 others were injured.
- Then on April 17, a man from Uzbekistan who police said sympathized with ISIS, hijacked a truck and careened into people on a busy street in Stockholm, Sweden. The casualty tally in that attack: Five dead and 15 injured.
The truck used in the Sweden attack had been stolen earlier that day. The driver was unloading merchandize when a lone wolf attacker simply jumped into the vehicle and drove off.
A recent issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah encouraged followers to execute more truck-ramming attacks. The online magazine's report urged supporters to mow down pedestrians in a truck attack on a crowded street in central London, singling out Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus as "ideal targets."
Published in 10 languages, the magazine tells supporters the best type of vehicle to use in a terror attack — "double-wheeled, load-bearing" trucks with a "slightly raised chassis and bumper," which are "fast in speed or rate of acceleration," according to the London Sunday Times.
Anti-terror officials worryied it might only have been a matter of time before an ISIS-inspired lone wolf attempts to wreak similar havoc in the United States by converting a large truck into a killing machine.
Some trucking firms were already taking protective measures. The Los Angeles Times reported Penske Truck Leasing has hired a private contractor to screen prospective customers against a watch list.
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