What sort of terror attacks will come next?

After all the incidents of recent weeks in Europe and the USA, I suspect we’re in for a long period of such disruptions.  Some will be relatively small, using knives or firearms.  Others will be much worse, using explosives or arson.  Following questions from readers as to what to expect, I’m going to discuss a few likely possibilities here.  In case you’re worried about it, I’m not saying anything new.  Wannabe terrorists have openly discussed these and other ideas on the Internet for years.

First of all, I think we can expect small-scale ‘lone wolf’ attacks in ever-increasing numbers.  Individuals or small groups will use firearms, home-made explosives or arson (fueled by gasoline or whatever they can lay their hands on) to attack night clubs, churches, cafes, festivals, etc.  Such attacks are almost impossible to defend against in advance, because the perpetrators will seldom need to talk to others about them.  Little or no co-ordination will be necessary.  The armed citizen has a decent chance of disrupting or stopping such attacks if he or she is prepared, alert and ready to act.  I hope and trust most of my readers will be that kind of person.

On a larger scale, I’ve been warning for years (as regular readers of this blog will know) that I expect one or more Beslan-style attacks on US schools.  It would be relatively simple for groups of terrorists to sneak across our porous southern border, congregate in two or three or four towns and cities where they could blend into already-resettled populations of Middle Eastern refugees, scope out local schools, obtain firearms and fuel such as LP gas cylinders and gasoline, manufacture home-made explosives, and prepare for co-ordinated attacks with other groups.  It’s a nightmare scenario, but I have no doubt whatsoever that it’s in the minds of terrorists right now.  Our schools are almost completely unprepared for such attacks.

Another likely possibility is the use of LP gas tanks, either stand-alone units, or gas cylinders on trucks, or actual LP gas tankers (road, rail or ship-borne), as blast and incendiary bombs.  They can be absolutely terrifying in the destruction they cause.  For a start, in case you’ve never heard of a BLEVE (Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion), here’s a video explaining it.

The force of such an explosion depends, of course, on the amount of fuel available.  For example, here’s a road accident in Russia that caused several consecutive explosions of individual gas cylinders.  Each explosion is relatively small, but is still big enough to devastate a single shop or dwelling or passing vehicle, and kill people nearby with flying fragments of the cylinder(s).

An entire tanker truck filled with liquid natural gas or propane would be far more dangerous.  Consider the disaster at Los Alfaques in Spain in 1978, which killed over 200 people and injured as many again.  There have been many others. Here are three that were caught on camera.

Now, imagine that one of those explosions took place in an urban area – a built-up residential or commercial district.  Think of it in the business or shopping districts of New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles.  Think of the casualties it would cause, and the carnage as the entire area became clogged with people trying to escape, others trying to get closer to gawk, and emergency services trying to get in and out. It would be catastrophic.

I’m not saying this because I like being alarmist.  I lived in an environment of terrorism for many years, and I’ve seen at first hand the sort of things these people can and will do.  I’ve seen rocket attacks on oil and gasoline storage tanks from a nearby road;  bombs planted in restaurants;  gun and knife attacks on innocent civilians;  mob violence directed against anyone and everyone who did not agree or sympathize with one side or another;  and so on.  Those were all relatively unsophisticated.  In our urbanized, highly concentrated western cities, something like a gas tanker attack would be far more dangerous.  Even more so would be an attack on a LNG carrier like the one illustrated below.

Such a ship, in harbor, would be an extraordinarily attractive target, provided terrorists could be found with sufficient knowledge and expertise to board her and plant their explosives in the right places.  It would cause immense damage and many casualties.  Needless to say, extraordinary precautions are taken to stop that happening.

LP gas isn’t the only threat, of course.  A gasoline tanker could be hijacked, driven into a transportation tunnel (say, the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City), stopped halfway through it, its valves opened to empty its cargo into the road, and an incendiary device used to ignite it.  The resulting fire would almost certainly kill a lot of people in the tunnel, cause so much damage that the structure might become unsafe for future use, and disrupt traffic (and emergency responders) for days, or weeks, or months.  (Even a minor fire can do a lot of harm, as happened in 1949.)  Multiple co-ordinated attacks of that sort might bring an entire city to a standstill, causing immense economic disruption.  (Yes, I know trucks and hazardous materials are banned from such tunnels.  Do you think such a ban is going to deter or stop a terrorist?  Even physical barriers might not be enough, particularly if he and/or his accomplices can shoot or grenade their way past defending officers to open the barriers.)

The same sorts of attacks could be launched on individual buildings.  The World Trade Center was attacked with vehicle-borne bombs in its basement in 1993.  Regulations and precautions notwithstanding, it’s not at all impossible for similar attacks to be launched in future, particularly if security grows lax (or can be suborned . . . how many security personnel have been recruited from population groups that might be sympathetic to, or susceptible to intimidation by, terrorists?).  Tanker trucks would obviously not fit into basements or parking garages, but smaller vehicles could carry drums or cylinders of fuel, or bombs.

I’d say those are the most likely forms of terrorist attack we have to anticipate.  I’ve no idea how likely they are in the short term, but I know terrorists have discussed them on their bulletin boards and in messages.  The authorities are well aware of it.  One hopes adequate precautions have been taken, but the powers that be simply can’t guard every tanker truck, or every LNG rail car, or every piece of critical infrastructure such as tunnels or bridges.  Such attacks will be attempted, as sure as I’m sitting here.  We’d better all be hoping and praying that the authorities foil them before it’s too late.  We can help by being alert, reporting suspicious behavior, and most of all being prepared to stop perpetrators ourselves if at all possible.

We live in an age of terrorism now.  It’s a fact of life.  We’d better get used to it, and conduct ourselves accordingly.



  1. As a current teacher, I fear for the safety of our schools. Because parents and the public have a knee jerk opposition to anyone carrying weapons around children, I have to work every day in a defenseless victim zone.

    As a former (retired) firefighter, I worry about terrorists using hazardous materials to attack our cities. Since trucks have placards on them that tell you what is inside, terrorists would have little trouble hijacking one, and releasing something really nasty in a crowded area.

  2. As I seem to recall, there was a brief mention on the national news back in April or March that investigation of the explosion in West, Texas (fertilizer and natural gas) had been reopened "in light of new evidence." Nothing has crossed the major media wires since that I've heard.

    What Divemedic says about the schools. Our security officer says we are a very low priority target for a Beslan-style attack (small school, small city, no one famous in area). I'm not as optimistic.


  3. Remember that Islamic terrorists go after what they see as symbols of the West (The Pentagon, World Trade Center, embassies, etc) or they go for numbers/ possible body count. This is yet another reason to stay away from large groups of people and urban areas, especially on holidays.
    Also, Peter has a good point about security guards – the Orlando shooter was a state licensed armed security guard; if he had worked elsewhere, he could have facilitated an even worse attack. The recent bombing of a Russian plan over the Sinai Peninsula appears, last I read, to have been accomplished by a suicide bomber whose bomb was brought around airport security by airport employees. In Afghanistan, police and soldiers have turned their weapons on their coworkers or gave their uniforms to others to facilitate attacks. I don't trust or expect security guards or law enforcement to keep me safe and you shouldn't either.

  4. I've a daughter teaching school in Brussels and, even there, the school security officer poo poos any changes to what little security is in place. So, for example, a random bum hopped the fence and approached kids on the play ground. My daughter wondered, "Is this it?" even as she shepherded kids away, while others merely watched to see what happened.

    She recognizes her school would be an attractive target since it has children of prominent people from all over the world including those of the Israeli ambassador. She has her plan in place. She's not counting on any plan from he school as much as she is upon her room's separate exit to a forested area.

    Oddly enough, several students have armed body guards. They are restricted to the parking lot.

  5. One of the volunteer firefighters at work just returned from a hazmat course given by the railway. Some of the chemicals in those tankers necessitate everyone in a 10 mile radius to be evacuated if a leak occurs and rail yards have minimal security. Look what happened in Lac Megantic two years ago.


  6. Wow, the level of unconcern shown by the people in the 3rd from last, and the last, video, is surprising. Especially the firefighters! Not well trained or informed, I suppose.

    They would be well served if they had mounts they could set up for their hoses, so they could leave the near area, and congregate beyond the expected blast radius of the tanker/container.

  7. It's a race between those who want to cram as many Muslims into Europe as rapidly as they can and those who want to halt the "refugee" tsunami before the catastrophic consequences undermine the very fabric of society in an irreversible way.

    Group 1 includes German chancellor Angela Merkel, EU president Jean-Claude Juncker, United Nations migration advocate Peter Sutherland, billionaire George Soros, Turkish prez Erdogan, billion-dollar-revenue people-smuggling rings from Lahore to Rabat, the Muslim Brotherhood, western NGOs, charities, aid workers, laywers lining their own pockets, the Muslim fake refugees themselves…

    Group 2 is us, ordinary people. The "rabble" (German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel) who object to our neighborhoods, our quality of life, our trust in our neighbors being destroyed.

  8. there is the taking hostage of the families of uniformed guards to force the guards to do wrong in order to save their families.
    the families are usually tortured and murdered even though the father is obeying orders.
    it is a powerful threat.

  9. There are so many soft targets in this country, and so many ways to cause death and destruction on a large (hundreds killed/wounded), with so little need to plan anything ahead, it's a wonder we're not having daily, or hourly terror events, with as many ISIL members as we must have within our borders.

  10. I would just like to thank all those morons who stop next to a raging gas explosion to get video for YouTube. Thanks, Guys!

  11. Just read Miles Maxwell's Drone, which uses massed multicopter attacks to bring down the President-elect's aircraft. None of the attackers knew how many others where in the group, so they couldn't give each other up. They were just told to buy a multicopter, hang a 10-pound weight from it, and fly it toward a plane.

    I used to worry about simultaneous MANPADS attacks on departing aircraft. RPGs would be just as capable, and much harder to avoid.

    Can you imagine the effects of three or four shootdowns across the country?

  12. No need for tankers or large storage facilities. Those quart LP gas containers meant for portable BBQs suffice, if they explode, to take out … well, I was told of one that flattened a two-story motel, so about half a city block.

    Propane plus ammonia makes a spectacular mess, too. Neighbor had a travel trailer that apparently had both leaking propane and leaking ammonia fridge, a combo that approximates TNT. It spontaneously blew, took out the garage on one side and a row of mature pines on the other (the trailer was reduced to a flatbed); I gather from the limited damage that the propane tank was nearly empty.

    What amazes me is that these …activists… haven't gone after those soft targets — the average Walmart is busier than a big airport, and hitting it would cause more disruption. I take this to mean said …activists… are actually not all that good at their "jobs".

    And I'd say the lack of such soft-target attacks goes to show that our risk level is actually extremely small — compared to more …active… parts of the world, American incidents are barely statistical noise.

    Then again, _my_ reaction is neither fear nor accomodation; it's more like "try it, punk."

  13. From over here in Europe i think the danger is not from big movie-plot terrorist attacks. We have had in the last week:
    – an afghan using an axe and an knife to attack a chinese tourist family on a regional train. The afghan was classed as an unaccompanied minor, now some question if he really wasn't older and from pakistan
    -a syrian refugee destined to be deported to bulgaria, where he first claimed asyl build a bomb in a rucksack and tried to enter an open-air music venue. He was turned away and exploded his bomb in a nearby pub
    – in France two french-born, islamic terrorists 17 and 20 year old stormed a church, killed the priest,wounded others and took hostages. They were killed by police. One had already tried to travel to syria and join IS and was sentenced to carry an electronic foot tag
    – in Munich an 18 year old amok runner killed 9 youths in an McDonalds in a shopping centre. He planed the killings for a year and even obtained an illegal glock pistol via dark net. Because of his german-persian heritage, at first there were fears, that this was a terrorist attack.
    – in a nearby town, there were two bomb warnings via telephone, no bombs were found

    all this sows fears in the hearts of common people. They don't the big flashy attacks, this alone puts everyone on edge.

  14. @ anonymous#3
    You left Hillary Rodham Clinton out of group 1. If she has her way we will have more terrorism suspects than any gov't agency could vet or keep track of.
    One of the things that concerns me is those small propane tanks on towed campers. They are portable bombs waiting to happen. They should be banned from all tunnels and bridges immediately. Temporary replacement tanks could be supplied by campgrounds for a minimal charge and everyone on the road would be safer.

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