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Terrorism by truck has long been feared by law enforcement

A terrorist attack involving a large truck — similar to the assault that killed at least 77 in Nice, France, Thursday — has been a scenario law enforcement officials in California and beyond have long analyzed.

Police have focused mostly on the possibility of terrorists packing a truck with explosives and detonating it in a crowded area.

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Brian Jenkins, a counter-terrorism expert and senior advisor to the president of Rand Corp., said the danger of truck bombs has existed since the 1980s with attacks in Lebanon but have evolved over time.

"The use of trucks as a weapon [in of themselves] is a more recent scenario. Al Qaeda and ISIS have both exhorted their followers to use any means to bring death. With limited access to explosives, large vehicles into large crowds are an obvious event," he said.

Police officers and rescue workers stand near a truck that plowed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in Nice, France, on July 14.
Police officers and rescue workers stand near a truck that plowed into a crowd leaving a fireworks display in Nice, France, on July 14. (Valery Hache / AFP/ Getty Images)

In March 2006, former University of North Carolina student Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar was accused of plowing a sports utility vehicle into nine pedestrians on the busy campus square to "avenge the deaths of Muslims" around the world, according to Times reports at the time. Several people were hurt but no one was killed.

In 2013, a man deliberately drove his car into pedestrians on the Venice boardwalk, killing an Italian newlywed and injuring 17 others.

Nathan Louis Campbell was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Alice Gruppioni, an Italian tourist visiting California with her husband on their honeymoon. Campbell also was found guilty on several counts of assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run charges.

Upset after a botched effort to buy drugs, Campbell got into his Dodge Avenger and decided to jump a curb, maneuver past barriers meant to block vehicle access and plow through the packed boardwalk, authorities alleged.

Since Timothy McVeigh used a Ryder rental truck packed with ammonia nitrate to attack a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, counter-terrorism officials have run a terror scenario with trucks at downtown L.A., Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of Los Angeles.

"Trucks have been on the radar screen since Oklahoma City and even before with first World Trade Center attack in 1993," said Brian Levin, a counter-terrorism expert at Cal State San Bernardino. "Authorities were mostly concerned that a truck would be a bed for explosives and not so much running over people."

Levin, however, added that Israel has seen cases of terrorists using trucks to run over people.

A decade ago, the LAPD discussed a terrorism scenario in which a fuel truck would be used in an attack.

Jenkins said a typical fuel tanker carries at least 9,000 gallons of gasoline, and they make up 90% of hazardous materials on our roads. He said during a study for Manetta Transportation Institute, he found these to be most deadly threat among dangerous cargoes.

"Large vehicles and trucks have always been a concern especially from the stand point of vehicle bombs," said Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Horace Frank, a veteran counter-terrorism specialist.

Frank noted the case in 2003 in which an elderly man accidentally plowed his car into a crowd at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, killing 10 people. That case showed how "vehicle can be deadly in a crowd," he said.

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UPDATES:

&;08 p.m.: This story was updated with details from Venice boardwalk attack.

6:33 p.m.: This story has been updated with quote from LAPD counter terrorism expert.

Originally posted at 5:30 p.m.

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