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Back to Archives | Back to February 2007 Contents 

Terror Attacks on Law Enforcement Worldwide

By Dean C. Alexander J.D., LL.M.,Director, Homeland Security Research Program, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois

Selected Survey of Attacks: January 2000 through July 2006

ocal police officers throughout the world are the first line of defense against terrorism. Police officers confront terrorists during traditional activities such as routine traffic stops, warrant service, and responses to calls for service.1 Police officers also investigate seemingly mundane crimes that turn out to be related to terror. Police inquiries into a series of gas station robberies in Southern California in 2005, for instance, revealed that a radical Islamic group—composed of some former convicts—was using the proceeds of the robberies to fund prospective terror operations against the U.S. military and other targets in the Los Angeles area.2

Terrorists target police—both directly and indirectly—because terror groups view the police officers as instrumentalities of the government and distinct tools of the group’s oppressors.3 In that sense, law enforcement is both a tactical and strategic target of terrorists. The police officers’ role in combating terrorism is critical, as they, too, are victims of such violence as well as the protectors of others.

Two domestic terror attacks made directly on U.S. police officers illustrate the point. In July 2002 a North Carolina Ku Klux Klan leader was suspected of planning to kill a sheriff as well as bomb a county courthouse, a jail, and a sheriff’s office.4 During a November 2002 incident at a California gas station, an antigovernment activist purposely shot and killed a police officer as a demonstration of his animus to government officials—in this case, law enforcement.5

The September 11 terrorists did not limit their targets to police officers, but the attacks at the World Trade Center complex resulted in the deaths of 37 Port Authority of New York/New Jersey police officers and 23 New York City Police Department officers.6

This article calls attention to the threat that terror groups pose to police. Its list of attacks, while not exhaustive, offers a representative survey of the methods and settings of terrorist attacks against law enforcement globally.

Type and Location of Attacks

Just as terrorist groups recruit across national boundaries and terrorist operations cross borders, terrorists adopt modus operandi from other terrorists around the world. This globalization of terror, combined with the growing ferocity and boldness of attacks, mean that law enforcement officers should be made aware of terrorist attacks worldwide. Tactics and targets used against police in one place will probably be replicated elsewhere. Better recognition of the risks will allow for improved awareness training and earlier adoption of better security measures and tactics designed to harden law enforcement targets.

A survey of selected terror attacks against law enforcement outside the United States from January 2000 through July 2006 includes many kinds of attack: ambushes, arson, grenades, gunfire, bombs, suicide bombs, kidnappings, and landmines, among others. To date, law enforcement has not been the target of biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear terrorism; nevertheless, police officers have been injured while responding to biological and chemical terrorist incidents.

Most attacks on this list were aimed at police-related facilities and assets, including vehicles, police stations, warehouses, barracks, training facilities, recruitment centers, retreats, and roadblocks and checkpoints. Other targets included officers at restaurants and bars, at their private residences, and on their way to work.

Attacks named in this survey took place in areas all over the globe: Asia (Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka), the Middle East (Algeria, Iraq, Israel, Palestinian territories, Turkey), South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru), and Europe (France, Greece, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom). Police, in other words, are on terrorists’ list of targets virtually everywhere.

Goals of Terror Attacks on Police Targets

Attacks on police stations, training facilities, and recruitment centers are designed to demonstrate to the public that police officers cannot protect themselves. Terrorists also attack them because they frequently have a high concentration of law enforcement officials, meaning that chances are good for achieving a high human toll.

Incidents arising against police cars occur due to the ubiquity of the targets and the vulnerability of the assets. Examples of attacks during other traditional law enforcement functions—including while providing security at a foreign consulate—demonstrate that police could be harmed at any point. Terrorist attacks on police officers at bars, at restaurants, at one’s home, and in one’s private vehicle suggest that no place is safe for law enforcement.

Terrorists choose their targets by weighing the prospective severity of the attack in terms of human and property damage and the symbolic and strategic importance of the target (a police station, for instance) against the costs in money, manpower, equipment, and sophistication needed to undertake particular terror attacks. Also, the level of security at a particular asset—its softness or hardness relative to other targets—affects the likelihood (and frequency) of attack. Assets protected with greater vigor are avoided, while poorly fortified assets essentially invite attack.

The ideological underpinnings of these groups include nationalism, separatism, and various other political ideologies, single issues (such as animal rights, the environment, and abortion), and religion. Some groups claim both political and religious justifications for their actions.

The following survey of attacks illustrates terrorists’ unending imagination and thirst for violence against the principal instrument of society’s protection force—law enforcement. After all, if the principal defenders against terror are unsafe, then the rest of society could ultimately crack under terror’s menace. It is imperative, then, that we learn from the past so that we may have a future with less victimization of law enforcement by terrorists.

Selected Terror Attacks on Police

Details about attacks listed here were drawn from information available in the Terrorism Knowledge Base (, developed by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, except where noted. Although some terror incidents could be classified among several designations, terror attacks cited here are listed only once.

By Type of Attack


  • Three Colombian police officers were shot and killed during an ambush undertaken by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ipiales, Colombia, in February 2006.

  • Two Afghan police officers were shot and killed and another was injured during an ambush in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Taliban undertook the January 2005 operation.


  • During a firebomb attack by the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) at a police post in Jharkand, India, in September 2001, one policeman was killed and five others were injured.

  • The Revolutionary Memory group set fire to a police car in Athens, Greece, in June 2003.

Bomb, acid

  • In August 2001, in Portugalete, Spain, acid bombs hurled at a patrol car injured two police officers. The Basque Fatherland & Freedom (ETA) group was suspected in the attack.

Bomb, homemade

  • In July 2005 nine homemade explosive devices were thrown at police and journalists at a parade in Ardoyne, Northern Ireland. The Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) claimed credit for the attacks.

Bomb, letter or parcel

  • In July 2001 a letter bomb sent by the Cooperative of Hand-made Fire & Related Items exploded at a police station in Genoa, Italy, injuring a police officer.

  • In May 2005 the Informal Anarchist Federation (IFA) sent a parcel bomb to police headquarters in Turin, Italy. A police officer was injured during the blast.

  • The IFA sent a parcel bomb to police headquarters in Lecce, Italy, in May 2005. The package did not explode as a security guard noticed the suspicious package.

Bomb, miscellaneous

  • In June 2003 a new police station in Bihar, India, was bombed by the MCC.

  • Four police officers were killed during a bombing and subsequent firearms barrage on a police van in Norte de Santander, Colombia, in August 2005. The Popular Liberation Army (EPL) took responsibility for the attack.

  • During an August 2005 bombing and gunfire attack on a police station in Bihar, India, Communist Party of India-Maoists (CPIM) members killed two and injured three others. Weapons were stolen during the incident, followed by demolition of the building.

  • In July 2006 gas-cylinder bombs thrown at a police post in El Arenillo, Colombia, resulted in six deaths and three injuries. The FARC was responsible for the attack.

Bomb, petrol

  • A petrol bomb was thrown at a police station in Saint-Pe-Sur-Nivelle, France,in March 2002, by Gora Euskadi Askatuta, a Basque group.

Bomb, remote control

  • During a remote-controlled detonation of a police vehicle in Kishi, Afghanistan, two police officers were killed and two others wounded. The Taliban took responsibility for the August 2005 incident.

Bomb, suicide

  • A Mujahideen Shura Council suicide car bombing near a police station in Iskandariyah, Iraq, in March 2006 killed the bombers and injured a dozen others.

  • In May 2002 a Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bomber undertook an attack near an Israeli border policeman in Jenin, Israel, killing himself.

  • A Hamas suicide bomber killed an Israeli border policeman and injured six others during an attack in Gaza in January 2005.


  • A Hamas mortar and grenade attack at a Palestinian police station in Al-Shati, Gaza, in October 2005 killed three and injured 50 others.

  • The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan members undertook a grenade attack at a police station in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, in August 2005, resulting in two injuries.


  • In May 2004 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members injured three Turkish police officers at a police checkpoint in Yuksekova.

  • In March 2002 al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members shot and killed an Israeli policeman while on patrol in Baka al-Gharbiya, Israel.

  • In August 2004 members of the PKK/Kurdistan Democratic Congress (KONGRA-GEL) members shot and injured two Turkish police officers in Semdinli, Turkey.

  • In December 2005 four police officers on patrol were shot and killed by FARC members in Campoalegre, Colombia.

  • A policeman was shot and killed in Barcelona, Spain, in December 2000 by members of ETA.


  • Hamas members kidnapped and killed the Palestinian Authority police chief in Gaza City in October 2002.

  • The Taliban kidnapped and murdered two police officers in Helmand, Afghanistan, in July 2005.

  • The police chief of Najaf, Iraq, was kidnapped and killed in April 2005 by members of al Qaeda in Iraq.

  • Ten police officers were taken hostage after an armed attack on a police station in Andahuqylas, Peru, in January 2005. During the siege, four police officers were killed and several others were wounded. Antauro Humala, who lost the 2006 Peruvian presidential elections, led the perpetrators of the attack, Ethnocacerista.

  • A Nepalese police officer was kidnapped in July 2005 by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPNM) in Dolakh, Nepal.


  • A remote-controlled landmine in the Kunar province killed four Afghan police officers in June 2005. The Taliban is suspected of undertaking the attack.

  • In June 2005, a remote-detonated landmine killed three police personnel in Gadchiroli, India. The CPIM is suspected of orchestrating the attack.

By Location


  • Baseball bat–wielding individuals—alleged Real Irish Republican Army members—at a bar in Londonderry attacked a senior member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in September 2005.

Foreign consulate

  • A Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front suicide bomber killed two and injured 17 police officers outside the German Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2001.

Personal automobile

  • In August 2005 an Algerian policeman’s booby-trapped car exploded, killing him and injuring his wife in Zamouri, Algeria. The Salafi Group claimed responsibility for the attack.7

  • Two Iraqi police officers were shot and killed during an ambush while driving to work in August 2005. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police barracks

  • In March 2005 the IFA detonated a rudimentary bomb in a trash bin near a police barracks in Genoa, Italy.

  • In November 2002 al-Madina fired two grenades at a housing complex in Kashmir, India.

  • In January 2005 a suicide bomber linked to al Qaeda in Iraq rammed his vehicle into an Iraqi police housing compound, killing 10 (including eight police officers) and injuring 60 others in Baghdad, Iraq.

Police recruitment center

  • An Ansar al-Sunnah Army suicide bomber undertook an attack near a police recruitment center in Arbil, Iraq, killing more than 60 and injuring more than 150 in May 2005.

Police retreat

  • In July 2004 an al-Mansoorain suicide bomber attacked a police retreat in Kashmir, India, killing five, including a police officer, and injuring two.

Police roadblock or checkpoint

  • The People’s Defense Forces shot and killed two police officers and injured another at a checkpoint in Pervari, Turkey, in May 2004.

  • Using grenades and gunfire, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member attacked a police checkpoint in the Gaza Strip in April 2002, killing two and injuring seven.

  • In December 2001 three police officers were shot and wounded at a roadblock in Auch, France, by ETA.

  • In March 2006 an Islamic Army in Iraq suicide car bomber killed 11 police officers and wounded 14 at a police checkpoint in Ramadi, Iraq.

Police station

  • In January 2005 the CIRA forced a taxi driver to deliver a bomb to a police station in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The device was defused on its arrival.

  • In November 2005 FARC members bombed and destroyed a newly constructed police station in Alpujarra, Colombia.

  • In September 2005 PKK members shot and killed one policeman and injured three others during a shooting at a police station in Van, Turkey.

  • Two men were killed and two police officers were injured during a Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front suicide bombing at a police station in Istanbul, Turkey, in January 2001.

  • In October 2001 the Popular Revolutionary Front detonated an explosive device near a police pavilion at a trade fair in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Police training facility

  • In September 2004 Kurdistan Freedom Hawks members bombed a police training facility in Ankara, Turkey.

Police vehicle

  • Two Iraqi police officers were shot and killed during an ambush while they were driving to work in August 2005. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • Members of the Shining Path shot and killed seven police officers in Aucayacu, Peru, and injured another during an ambush of their vehicle in December 2005.

  • In August 2005 a bomb attached to a bicycle detonated near a police car in Areca, Colombia. FARC and the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN) claimed responsibility for the attack that killed one and injured 29 others.

Police warehouse

  • In October 2003 a bomb exploded near a police department warehouse in Quito, Ecuador. The incident, undertaken by the Revolutionary Youth of Ecuador, injured one person.

Private residence

  • In January 2006 an explosion at the home of a police superintendent in Pakhara, Nepal, was undertaken by the CPNM.

  • In October 2001 five people were killed when a bomb exploded at a police officer’s home in Peol, Colombia. The ELN took responsibility for the attack.

  • A police constable and his wife were shot and killed in their Kashmir, India, home in November 2003 by Lashkar-e-Taiba.


  • ETA shot and killed a Basque police officer while he ate at a restaurant in February 2003 in Andoain, Spain. ■

1Southern Poverty Law Center, “Terror from the Right,” by Andrew Blejwas, Anthony Griggs, and Mark Potok (Summer 2005),, January 5, 2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, “End of Watch,” by Susy Buchanan (Fall 2005),, January 5, 2007; Anti-Defamation League, Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network, “Officer Safety and Extremists: An Overview for Law Enforcement Officers” (2001),, January 5, 2007; Anti-Defamation League, Militia Watchdog, “Flashpoint America: Surviving a Traffic Stop Confrontation with an Antigovernment Extremist,” by Mark Pitcavage (n.d.),, January 5, 2007.
2U.S. Department of Justice, “Four Men Indicted on Terrorism Charges Related to Conspiracy to Attack Military Facilities, Other Targets,” press release, Los Angeles, August 31, 2005,, January 5, 2007.
3Southern Poverty Law Center, “Terror from the Right”; Southern Poverty Law Center, “End of Watch”; Anti-Defamation League, Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network, “Officer Safety and Extremists”; Anti-Defamation League, “Flashpoint America.”
4Southern Poverty Law Center, “Terror from the Right”; Johnson County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Office, “Possible Threats on Sheriff and Bombing Courthouse,” press release, July 19, 2002, cfm?content_id=1735&category_level_id=783, January 5, 2007.
5Southern Poverty Law Center, “End of Watch”; William Booth, “Murder, Incorporated?” Washington Post, April 4, 2005, C1; The Officer Down Memorial Page, “Police Officer David Frank Mobilio” (n.d.),, January 5, 2007.
6National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, “9/11 Officers’ Deaths List” updated June 11, 2003,, January 5, 2007.
7Sana Abdallah, “Car Bomb Kills Algerian Policeman,” UPI, August 20, 2005.



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 2, February 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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