A new report from the Mineta Transportation Institute’s examines the way bombs were used in 3,836 attacks on passenger train and train stations, buses, bus stations and stops, passenger ferries and terminals, rail infrastructure and operating and security staff.
The report, “The Use of Explosive Devices in Attacks on Public Surface Transportation: Trends in Frequency, Lethality, and Prevention,” shows the attacks, between January 2004 and December 2021, killed 7,412 people and injured 21,847, an average of 1.9 fatalities and 5.7 injuries per attack.
“While the percentage of bomb attacks globally has decreased, we found that lethality has increased, particularly in economically advanced countries, where suicide bombings are the most lethal bomb attacks. Most frequently, bombs were placed inside bus or train compartments, on railway tracks or inside train stations. The bombs in stations and compartments resulted in the most casualties,” said Brian Jenkins, the author of the report. “However, the majority of attacks in economically advanced countries are unsuccessful, with devices discovered, malfunctioning or failing to detonate. Despite the decrease in attacks, bombs do remain very lethal—particularly in confined spaces.”
The report shows bombers had greater success in countries outside the U.S., with vehicle-borne explosive devices (VBIEDs) being the most lethal in developing countries, followed by suicide attackers carrying bombs.
Co-author Bruce Butterworth noted the reason for the VBIEDs being the most effective may be because explosives are easier to acquire in less developed countries or detection and prevention by authorities are weaker.
“Worldwide, successful bombings have declined. More bombs are being detected before detonation, particularly in the advanced countries, although the identity of most of the individuals who have found bombs and stopped attacks is unknown. Of those who foiled attacks in those countries and whose identities are known, 40 percent were passengers, citizens or employees while the percentage in the less-developed countries was only 21 percent. The proportions in the two country groups were reversed for security, police and military officials,” Butterworth said.
According to the report, worldwide, bombs placed in railway tracks are not very lethal, as they are usually intended to cause disruption.
“Bombs have figured prominently in the history of political violence. Technological advances in explosives such as timing devices and remote detonation have made bombings easier and, as our findings show, have clearly become the terrorists’ weapon of choice in recent decades. “Restricting access to more stable and reliable explosives, alongside better intelligence and aggressive security does seem to result in less lethality from terrorist activity,” Jenkins said.
The full report can be downloaded here.