Prior to his death in May 2011, Osama bin Laden planned attacks on rolling stock trains in America, and al Qaeda franchises have aimed to do the same on passenger trains. Rail assets are definitely within the jihadi terrorists’ target set, and increased train security is obviously paramount. To increase rail security, it is vital to understand past train attacks to ascertain terrorist targeting, tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs), and motivations. Accordingly, here are overviews of four major passenger train attacks that help illustrate the threat.
The 2004 Madrid Bombings
The Madrid train bombings happened on March 11, 2004. Up to 12 terrorists hid 13 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on four passenger trains. Ten devices exploded in the morning rush hour between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., killing 191 and wounding 1,741. The carriages suffered catastrophic structural damage. Several IEDs went off as trains were arriving at Madrid’s main Atocha train station, which increased the casualty count. In some carriages, terrorists placed their IEDs near the doors where passengers tend to congregate, which again increased the casualty count. Track bed damage at each detonation site was substantial. The carnage triggered an immediate shutdown of all trains in Madrid.
The Madrid train bombers made their IEDs out of the mining explosive Goma 2 Eco, which has a velocity of detonation (VOD) of about 19,000 feet per second (FPS). In comparison, the 5.56mm bullet fired by most U.S. servicemen from the M-4 carbine travels at about 3,000 FPS. The bombers used cell phone alarm clocks as triggers, packed their IEDs with nails and screws for shrapnel, and hid the devices in backpacks and/or duffel bags after extensive reconnoitering.
The group responsible for the bombings was the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG), an al Qaeda (AQ) inspired franchise. Twenty-one operatives from Spain, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon and Algeria participated. AQ spokesperson Abu Dujana al Afghani, presumably speaking for MICG, said the attacks were designed to punish Spain for its participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After admonishing Madrid for allying with the Bush administration, al Afghani warned: “If you do not cease your unjust murdering of Muslims, which you call the war on terror, we will destroy your homes and cause your blood to flow like rivers. We are prepared to fill your hearts with terror.” Spain complied and withdrew from Iraq, but it currently has forces in Afghanistan.
The 2005 London Bombings
The London train bombings happened on July 7, 2005. Four terrorists carried out suicide bombings, three against The Tube — London’s underground metro rail — and one against a public bus. The latter bomber presumably missed his train, and being dedicated and flexible, he simply switched targets on his own recognizance. All the attacks happened during the morning rush hour in quick succession at 8:50 a.m., about 50 seconds apart. The bus suicide bomber attacked near 10:00 a.m. In all, the blasts killed 52 and wounded 770, shut down The Tube for a day, damaged telecommunications infrastructure and hurt its structural integrity. Like Madrid, terrorists placed their IEDs near the doors of passenger carriages to kill as many civilians as possible.
The 7/7 bombers made their IEDs out of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) using locally purchased substances.Jihadists also call TATP, “Mother of Satan.” It is highly unstable and has a VOD of 17,000 FPS. CCTV video footage showed the bombers reconnoitering their targets beforehand. Investigators believe the terrorists hid their bombs in backpacks that each of them wore, and they detonated them manually.