Ground transportationMaking bus transportation more secure: Learning from Israel’s experience

Published 5 March 2012

A new report on ground transportation security draws on the experience of Israel with Palestinian terrorists’ attacks on buses; the report helps increase understanding of what can happen and of what can deter, prevent, and mitigate terrorist attacks against bus transit

Study uses the Israeli experience with bus attacks as models // Source:

The Mineta Transportation Institute has published a report that discusses sixteen case studies of attacks against Israeli bus targets between 2000 and 2005, along with detailed statistical data. The institute says that the 104-page report, Security Awareness for Public Bus Security: Case Studies of Suicide Attacks Against the Israeli Public Bus System, could help increase understanding of what can happen and of what can deter, prevent, and mitigate terrorist attacks against bus transit. Principal investigators were Bruce Robert Butterworth, Shalom Dolev, and Brian Michael Jenkins.

The statistical data come from Mineta’s (MTI) proprietary Database on Terrorist and Serious Criminal Attacks against Public Surface Transportation. The report also analyzes the effectiveness of different improvised explosive devices and methods for delivering them, and it raises questions for further discussion.

Public surface transportation has been and remains a primary target for terrorists throughout the world,” said Butterworth. “MTI’s database records 2,287 attacks against public surface transportation between January 1, 1970 and November 1, 2011, in which 7,581 people were killed and 29,212 were injured. Of these attacks, 65 percent were against buses, bus stations, and bus stops. They accounted for 51 percent of the fatalities and 41 percent of the injuries resulting from terrorist attacks during this period.”

Some key findings include:

  • Suicide delivery was the dominant method of attack. In 12 cases, devices were worn by or carried by the attacker. In one case, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated by a suicide driver alongside a bus. In three cases, bombs were concealed in bags or other items left behind.
  • The two most lethal and successful attacks, one of which was the suicide VBIED attack, each killed 17 people. Among the other successful attacks, one killed 16 people, one killed 15, and one killed 14. Six of the attacks were considered unsuccessful, and four were considered partially successful. One case involved only pre-attack surveillance, with no attack.
  • In eight of the attacks that were considered failures or only partial successes, security measures and awareness played a role in stopping the attack or mitigating its consequences. In seven of those cases, poor attacker techniques and bomb-making were also factors.

All sixteen cases raise questions, which are purposely left for further discussion. Two questions are especially important, particularly for security officials and transportation operators in the United States: How applicable are these cases to the current environment in the United States? And how does Israel’s experience compare with that of India, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka?

While one might conclude that Western nations are not likely to experience the kinds of intense terrorist campaigns against public surface transportation experienced in Israel or in other developing countries,” said Butterworth, “these targets remain attractive and must be considered in security planning.”

The complete 104-page report includes 64 maps, photographs, and other figures that illustrate each case study.