It didn’t take long to conclude that when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck into a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in the French town of Nice, killing over 80, it was a terror attack. Investigators still have yet to piece together his motivations, and no group has yet claimed responsibility, but the style of attack undeniably resembles a terror tactic long promoted by terror groups—particularly the Islamic State (IS).
The most notorious of all such calls to use automobiles in attacks was made in IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-'Adnani’s September 21, 2014 speech, entitled, “Indeed, You Lord is Ever Watchful.” In the speech, ‘Adnani called for supporters to kill non-Muslim Westerners, “especially the spiteful and filthy French.” He instructed:
If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him. Do not lack. Do not be contemptible.
On October 20 of that year, one month after the speech’s release, a Canadian jihadist named Martin Rouleau drove his car into two Canadian soldiers after waiting for them in a parking lot. Connecting ‘Adnani’s instructions to Rouleau’s attack becomes all the more reasonable when noting the pro-IS content posted to his Facebook page and accounts he followed on Twitter, many of which would regularly disseminate IS propaganda.
‘Adnani’s call to use automobiles and other unconventional forms of weaponry would remain a regularly echoed incitement among IS fighters and supporters. Perhaps most relevant of these incitements was one made by French IS fighter “Abu Salman al-Faranci” in a November 19, 2014 IS video, titled, “What Are You Waiting For?” The fighter stated, “There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit,” and followed up:
Kill them and spit in their faces and run over them with your cars. Do whatever you are able to do in order to humiliate them, for they deserve only this.
Other IS supporters and fighters would likewise remind followers of the call on social media, with one such user stating, “Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Adnani said it clearly, attack them where ever you find them, with your car, knife...” Less than a year before being killed in July of 2015, British IS fighter Abu Rahin Aziz (“Abu Abdullah Britani”) tweeted:
Calls for attacks via automobiles have not been limited to IS. The second issue of “Inspire,” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) English language magazine, contained a feature article on the matter. Titled, “The Ultimate Mowing Machine” and attributed to “Yahya Ibrahim,” the article instructed, “The idea is to use a pickup truck as a mowing machine, not to mow grass but mow down the enemies of Allah.” The article described “ideal” locations as those crowded with pedestrians, and stated:
This idea could be implemented in countries like Israel, the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland and other countries…As long as they target our noncombatants, we will target theirs.
Though both AQAP and IS have promoted the “mowing” down of targets, a massive and organized response by IS suggests that IS may claim Bouhlel’s attack at some point in the near future, as was the case with the Brussels and Paris attacks. Also, it is worth noting that of all European countries, France is the most recurrently mentioned as an attack target by IS in its media releases.
Regardless of what we learn Bouhlel’s motivations to be, though, his attack on unsuspecting celebrators in Nice is a reminder of the startling abundance of modern-day terror tactics and the horrid tolls they can take.