Nice Attack: The Deadly 'Evolution' of Vehicles Turned Into Weapons

Tactic has seen use in Israel, but in Nice, “lethality is sobering.”

— -- While mass-casualty terrorist attacks in the West have become commonplace, one facet of Thursday night's assault in Nice, France, appeared at first to be unusual: a truck, rather than bombs and guns, was used as the weapon of choice.

The killer, identified today as 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was armed with a handgun and a malfunctioning grenade, authorities said, but it was with a large, white truck that he managed to kill a vast majority of his 84 victims, simply by speeding through a packed crowd that had gathered to watch fireworks on the French coast.

The tactic has been seen most prominently in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In two attacks in 2014, attackers drove into crowds of Israelis near public transportation stops in Jerusalem, reportedly injuring soldiers in one incident and killing a baby in another. In 2011, a Palestinian man reportedly stole a taxi and rammed into a group of Israeli border guards, injuring seven people.

Also in 2014 a similar attack took place in Dijon, France, that injured 11 people, and one in Canada the same year killed a Canadian soldier.

In May 2013 a British soldier was run over by a car before being fatally stabbed in London.

"Unfortunately, this is not a surprise from a tactical perspective," said Matthew Olsen, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and current ABC News consultant.

But what is really worrying to counterterrorism professionals, Olsen said, is the unprecedented body count in this instance.

"The lethality is sobering," he said. "Counterterrorism officials have to be very concerned about how simple and unsophisticated this attack was, given how deadly it was.

“It didn't require any expertise, no bomb-making skills. It's very difficult to defend against someone who's determined to just use a truck as a weapon,” Olsen said.

IHS Jane's Henman said the "high-impact/low-capability nature of the attack raises the risk of repeated use of the tactic in France and allied countries," and warned of potential "copycat" attacks in the coming days.