Limousine Bombs Feared at Inaugural

Limousine Terror? (TIME)

As Washington gears up for the first Inaugural of the post-9/11 era, one potential security threat has emerged as a particular focus of concern: vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDS, possibly disguised as limousines. The fears were prompted in part, say U.S. intelligence sources, by a 39-page document seized from al-Qaeda last year, titled “Rough Presentation for Gas Limo Project.” It lays out a scenario for using limousines to deliver bombs equipped with cylinders of a flammable gas. Though the Inauguration is not specifically mentioned, parts of the document began circulating among senior U.S. intelligence authorities on Jan. 5. In response, barriers have been set up to block any vehicle bent on destruction.

The document is believed to have been written by Issa al-Hindi, an al-Qaeda operative captured in Britain last year. It recommends concealing bombs in limos because the vehicles “blend in” and “can transport larger payloads than sedans … and do not require special driving skills.” The limos can “access underground parking structures that do not accommodate trucks” and “have tinted windows that can hide an improvised explosive device from outside.” The document calls for the deployment of three limos, each carrying 12 or more compressed-gas cylinders to create a “full fuel-air explosion by venting flammable gas into a confined space and then igniting it.” It suggests painting the cylinders yellow to falsely “signify toxic gases to spread terror and chaos when emergency and haz-mat teams arrive.”

Al-Qaeda used similar devices in the truck bomb that blew up the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998 and in a 2002 attack on a Tunisian synagogue. Shortly after the document surfaced last summer, the Department of Homeland Security began contacting limousine firms to warn of the danger. With hundreds of limos expected to jam the capital this week, authorities are on the alert.

As someone who plans to attend the swearing-in ceremony, I’m not particularly concerned about this threat. For high profile events like this, the security is amazingly tight and roads are closed to normal traffic. Unless the terrorist organization managed to infiltrate the Secret Service’s protective detail–no easy task, to say the least–this would be exceedingly difficult to pull off.

That said, I’m amazed that car bombs and Hamas-style human bombs have not been used in the U.S., minus the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma City. In a country as large as ours with so many high value targets, I don’t know how we’d stop them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Axel Kassel says:

    We need Dan Rather to do an expose of how the Pentagon tolerates on active duty a cabal of neo-Nixonian rogue nuclear-targeting officers who might go ballistic, as it were, against high-value Middle Eastern targets if another Islamofscist terror attack were to be executed in North America.

  2. M. Murcek says:

    Nothing like starting the thread with a galactically off topic comment…

  3. McGehee says:

    Actually, Dan would be just the man to do that story. I’m sure his Abilene source has acquired an actual typewriter by now.

  4. Cybrludite says:

    I’m guessing that was a suggestion as to how to stop a widespread car bombing campaign.

  5. jerseycityjoan says:

    I amazed that we haven’t had any more terrorist incidents either. There’s lot of nasty, deadly things that a few people – or even one person – could do, but as far as I know, no one has done them here.

    We’re a huge country with porous borders. We sure have our share of nutcases.

    How have we managed to stay this lucky for so long?