Analysis examines transportation terror attacks

New research shows that many terror plots against public transportation targets begin with unrealistic expectations that are scaled down to meet more realistic capabilities.

A newly released report by Mineta Transportation Institute provides insight into the weapons and tactics terrorists have used against ground transportation. The Mineta study examines 13 terrorist plots that were foiled or uncovered by authorities between 1997 and 2010, according to

"We can learn much from terrorists' failures because they provide insights into terrorist ambitions, clues to possible new directions in tactics and weapons, and details about how the plots evolve," Principal Investigator Brian Jenkins said, reports. "These details often are more difficult to discern when an attack has succeeded and its perpetrators are dead or have fled."

MTI said that all of the plots it examined as part of the study were by groups looking to be a part of a global armed struggle.

From 2001-2004, terrorists appeared to focus on chemical or biological agents as weapons, with the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system used as inspiration. None of the planned attacks were successful. MTI reported that the difficulty in acquiring large amounts of chemical or biological agents meant that the plots would likely not have caused mass casualties.

Further attacks using more reliable explosive devices could achieve the desired effect, according to the report, but most plots have been interrupted before the planners had chosen a place and time.

"Public surface transportation systems are necessarily open and therefore unavoidably vulnerable targets. Further analysis is needed to determine what physical measures actually work and how they do," the report concludes, reports.