Police are reinforcing security for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade through New York City after ISIS urged its supporters in the West to use rented trucks in attacks similar to the operation that killed 86 people this summer in France.
Police plan to station sand-filled trucks and concrete barriers as blockades all around the parade route to stop trucks, authorities told NBC News, after the appeared last weekend in the terrorist organization’s English-language magazine, which called the parade “an excellent target.”
About 3.5 million people are expected to line the parade’s 2½-mile route on Nov. 24.
Terrorism experts say the election of Donald Trump may have encouraged ISIS, which could believe he could be easier to provoke than President Barack Obama.
While ISIS hasn’t put out any official propaganda centered on Trump’s election, it did denounce both him and Hillary Clinton in a recent article on the U.S. election. Meanwhile, ISIS supporters and allied jihadist groups have discussed the advantages of a Trump presidency online, said Alex Kassirer, a senior counterterrorism analyst at NBC analysts Flashpoint Security, a worldwide security firm.
The new ISIS article offers a guide to inflicting maximum casualties using trucks, accompanied by a picture of the Macy’s parade with a caption identifying it as an especially rich target for terrorists.
The guide suggests an operation closely similar to the tactic used July 14 — Bastille Day — in the French resort city of Nice, where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel barreled a 19-ton truck into a crowd of revelers, killing 86 people and injuring more than 200 others. Police shot and killed Bouhlel.
Before New York, however, there was a series of smaller attacks in the West by individuals or small groups, most of them using vehicles or knives. They were typically inspired by Islamic State propaganda or, in a few cases, by jihadis in Syria providing remote direction and encouragement over social media and encrypted telecommunications. The trend is hard to stop precisely because of its simplicity.
The accused New York attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, apparently followed a playbook disseminated by Rumiyah magazine in November of last year. The article singled out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as an “excellent target.”
“Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner,” the article said.
The ISIS attacks on France and Belgium exposed weaknesses in Europe’s approach to borders and information sharing that counterterror officials had warned about for years. The vulnerabilities remain largely unaddressed.
The brutal scenario was enacted on the campus of Ohio State University soon after the magazine edition appeared. A Somali immigrant student went on a spree with a car and a knife. No one died except him. But then came the Berlin Christmas market attack; the Westminster car and knife attack in London in March (five dead); a Stockholm truck attack in April (five dead); the London Bridge van and knife attack in June (seven dead); the van and knife attacks in Barcelona and the nearby beach town of Cambrils (16 dead), and finally, yesterday’s mass murder on the bike path near New York City’s Stuyvesant High School.
Like most of the previous attackers, Saipov used a rented vehicle. Like most of the others, he wasn’t completely unknown. It’s been reported that he came up on the radar screen of the FBI in connection to a previous investigation. That isn’t necessarily a surprise or a scandal. In 2001, the longtime French counterterror judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told me it was very rare to encounter a case of terrorism in which the suspects were not already in a case file or an intelligence report somewhere. His words have been confirmed repeatedly since then.
In the London attacks, the terrorists continued their rampages on foot with knives. Saipov, in contrast, didn’t hurt anyone else once his truck crashed because his weapons consisted only of pellet and paintball guns. Given the ready supply of firearms in the United States, his limited armament suggests a relatively primitive plot and a lack of a support network.