School Terrorism Incidents: Information and timeline of attacks
The following is a listing of the incidents of “school terrorism” incidents that have happened around the world since the first known incident in 1968. There are more than 100 definitions of terrorism by governmental organizations around the world, including legal definitions from the local to the international level. As a result, our list of acts of school terrorism include incidents that fall under a number of varying definitions of terrorism. As a result, we do not have a single definition of terrorism that we used for our research since we wanted to avoid restricting our findings. For clarification, we will attempt to summarize our definition of school terrorism here.
School terrorism is an act of violence that affects schools or students and is carried out in such a way as to invoke terror in the support of an ideology or greater cause rather than distinct personal motivation.
We did not include incidents that might be considered school terrorism but were part of conflicts that would be better characterized as wartime. These include attacks during the civil war in Turkey, with over 300 school attacks, or the current conflict in Iraq. Including these incidents as acts of school terrorism would skew the findings in a manner that is not relevant for most schools.
At the same time, we included attacks in the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are many lessons in these attacks for American schools that have yet to experience the level of school terrorism seen in the Middle East. We also decided not to include some incidents that took place in the United States that many others refer to as school terrorism. These include active shooter situations (like those at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado or the recent attack in Newtown Connecticutt), the Our Lady of Angels catholic school arson in 1958 or the 1927 Bath School Disaster. Though these incidents share some traits with acts of school terrorism, they each have characteristics that place them outside of the scope of our research.
Despite the thorough research of the authors, there are certain to be other instances of school terrorism that are not included in this list, and more incidents are occurring around the world as time goes on. To let us know about an act of school terrorism that should be added to the list, please send us a message and mention school terrorism in the subject of your message. We are currently in the process of updating our listing and there are many incidents of school terrorism that are not well documented. We also welcome any additional information or details about the acts of school terrorism we have in our current listing, since some dates that we found were incomplete.
We recently moved this listing from our other website www.schoolterrorism.com, and we will be posting one incident per day during the month of January 2013 as we repopulate the school terrorism timeline. The School Terrorism website was created for the book Innocent Targets: When Terrorism Comes to School when it was published in 2004. Migrating the list to this page will allow us to keep the information more current than the old site will allow. We have also centralized the school terrorism resources listed on that website by moving them here.
Observations from our Research on School Terrorism
In our research we found that incidents of school terrorism follow the trend set by terrorism in general. Roughly 40% of terrorist attacks focus on transportation systems as targets. As evidenced by the attacks on September 11th, 2001 in the United States, March 11th 2004 in Madrid, Spain, and July 7th 2005 in London, England, public transportation is a favored terrorist target. It should be noted that transportation systems do not make up a majority of terrorist attacks. However, they do account for the largest single type of target chosen by terrorists. We should be prepared for such attacks on our school transportation systems in the United States.
In 2005 we published our findings along with information on what to do to prepare for school terrorism as Innocent Targets: When Terrorism Comes to School. This book has since become a standard reference on school terrorism for government agencies, researchers and college syllabi. It is in use by emergency management agencies and other government organizations in all 50 states as well as dozens of countries around the world.
The Timeline of School Terrorism Attacks- September, 2004 - An attack by Chechen terrorists on a school in Belsan , Russia leaves hundreds dead and appears to be the largest terrorist attack on a school related target to date.
- September, 2001 - Two killed in school bus attack in Israel
- September, 2001 - School bombing in Israel
- September, 2001 - School girls attacked with bomb in Ireland
- September, 11th, 2001 - World Trade Center Attack - World Trade Center Attack
- September 5, 2002 - Fatah terrorists fired shots from a crowded school towards a patrol of Israeli soldiers. One soldier was killed and another wounded.
- School Terrorism Web Courses - Coming Soon – School Terrorism Web Courses Safe Havens Analysts Authoring School Terrorism Web Cours
- October 29, 1998 - An Israeli soldier was killed after a terrorist drove a car bomb into an army jeep the soldier was driving. The jeep was escorting a bus of 40 elementary school children from Kfar Darom, a settlement in the Gaza strip.
- October 2002 - During a series of sniper attacks in the Washington , D.C. area, the Beltway snipers killed ten people and wounded three others, causing significant panic in the region as well as a coordinated response by public safety and school personnel. On October, seventh, 2002, a thirteen year old boy was sho
- November, 21, 2002 - A terrorist bomber killed eleven people and injured almost fifty others in Israel when he blew himself up on a bus crowded with school children. The terrorist group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
- November, 2001 - Two students killed in bus attack in Israel
- November, 2000 - School bus boming in Israel
- November 8, 2004 - A bomb went off damaging a Muslim elementary school in Eindhoven . No one was injured in the attack. Police feel that attack is related to a series of terrorist incidents in the region.
- May, 2002 - Twelve school children were among the victims killed in Dagestan when a large remote-controlled explosive device detonated as they passed it. Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the terrorists who carried out the attack to the Nazis.
- May, 1994 - Four Chechens armed with grenades and firearms hijacked a bus filled with teachers, parents and children in Southern Russia . The hostages were released after a multimillion dollar ransom was paid.
- May, 1986 - In a bizarre incident, a man and his wife who both held extremist views and wished to create a “Brave New World” took students and teachers hostage at an elementary school in Cokeville , Wyoming using firearms and explosives. They shot a teacher in the back and accidentally detonated the device kill
- May, 1977 - A group of four Moluccan terrorists took more than 100 students and school employees hostage in an elementary school in Bovendsmille, Holland. After fourteen days of patient negotiations, Dutch Royal Marines performed a successful tactical rescue and captured all four terrorists.
- May, 1974 - Ma’alot Massacre - Three Arab terrorists dressed as Israeli Defense Forces soldiers attacked a school in Ma’alot, Israel. They took hostages and killed twenty one school children along with several adults. Many of the casualties occurred when an elite unit of the Golani Brigade attempted a tactical response to rescue
- May 8, 1970 - Palestinian terrorists attacked an Israeli School bus killing nine children and three adults. Nineteen others were also crippled for life. The terrorists apparently knew the bus schedule and planned their attack based on this knowledge.
- May 30, 2001 - Netanya school bombing
- March, 2002 - Seven killed in bus attack in Israel
- March, 2002 - Five students were shot to death and twenty-three other people wounded in an attack by Palestinian terrorists on a pre-military high school in Atzmona, Israel.
- March, 1998 - The American School in Amman, Jordan was rocked by an explosion believed to be the work of terrorists upset by the U.S. conflict with Iraq over U.N. arms inspections.
- March, 1997 - Seven Israeli school girls were shot to death by a Jordanian soldier while on a field trip in Bakura, Jordan.
- March 18, 1968 - Fatah terrorists in Israel set a land mine which later blew up a school bus, killing two children and injuring 28 others.
- June, 2002 - Two students were murdered and fifteen wounded by a gunman believed to be from an ethnic minority Karen rebel group in an attack on a school bus in Thailand.
- June 28, 2004 - One adult and one child were killed when a rocket fired by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza strip detonated in a nursery school in Sderot.
- June 18, 2002 - A homicide bomber detonated himself on a bus headed towards Jersusalem. The bus, which was carrying many students on their way to school, was destroyed, leaving nineteen dead and seventy-four others wounded.
- January, 1998 - A bombing in Algiers on a crowded street packed with students returning home from school killed one person and wounded several others.
- February 26, 1993 - World Trade Center bombing - Terrorists detonate a vehicle bomb in the parking deck of the World Trade Center in an attempt to collapse both towers. Six people were killed and more than a thousand injured in the attack. Schools in the immediate area were affected by the event, but no students or staff were injured.
- February 22, 2004 - A Fatah attack on a bus in Jerusalem killed eight and wounded sixty more. Eleven of those wounded were school children. Help us grow our database Is there an incident of school terrorism that is not in this list that you feel should be included? Use our Contact Form to let us know. Back to the Sc
- August, 2002 - Three school employees and two school security personnel were killed by gunman in an attack on the Murree Christian School in Pakistan.
- August, 1999 - An individual with extremist views opened fire in a childcare area of a Jewish community center in Los Angeles and killed several children. Police officers pursued the suspect who then shot and killed a Hispanic postal employee. The killings stem from the suspect’s anti-Semitic and racist views.
- April, 2003 - An explosion at a high school in Jenin, West Bank injured nearly thirty students. A radical Jewish group - Nikmat Olelim or “Revenge of the Infants” claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the bomb was placed to avenge the murders of Jewish children by Palestinian terrorists. &n
- April, 2001 - School bus bombing in the West Bank
- April 19, 1995 - Murrah Federal Building bombing - Shortly after parents had dropped their children off at a day care center located in the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a large car bomb detonated and destroyed half of the structure. Among the 168 people who were killed were children at the day care center. Area schools also suffered str
- 1976 - French Foreign Legion troops and the French counterterrorism police unit GIGN executed a tactical assault to free twenty nine French children being held hostage in a school bus at the border of Djibouti and Somalia. One child and five terrorists were killed during the rescue operation.
More resources on School Terrorism from our site:
- Articles and research from Safe Havens analysts. Subjects range from ways to make schools safer to preparing for acts of violence and natural disasters: our free article listing.
- Safe Havens Training sessions: Training for Schools on how to rationally prepare for terrorism without leaving schools vulnerable to other hazards
- U.S. Government response to school terrorism: Letter from the United States Department of Education after the Beslan attack
- School Bus Driver Emergency Preparedness Training Resource: Safe Topics – Safe Passages: School Transportation Security and Emergency Preparedness
- Train school staff and school transportation staff to respond to a crisis with research-based approaches. These techniques are used by law enforcement, firefighters and the military to prepare for crisis situations. We have adapted these training methods to prepare school staff to respond more effectively during a crisis: Safe Topics – The First 30 Seconds Crisis Scenario Video Training
School Bus Terrorism: A Practical Analysis with Implications for America’s Schools
Chris Dorn wrote the following research paper on school terrorism in 2006. The paper has been republished numerous times and is widely available in various forms on the internet. One version was published in the Journal of Emergency Management. This is the most complete and accurate version available. It should be considered in context of cultural and global changes over the past 6 years. At the same time, it contains relevant lessons for preparing for emergencies and incidents of school terrorism today.
In this paper I will discuss one specific aspect of terrorism: attacks including school buses as targets or weapons. I will also focus on Islamist groups in my analysis. I will assume a basic knowledge of terrorism and terrorist groups. Thus I will not discuss in detail the motivations or specific tactical movements of terrorists. I will be dealing in strategies and methods that have implications for anti-terrorism measures in preparedness and response issues for school terrorism incidents.
The premise of this paper is the very real threat of another terrorist attack on American soil carried out by a foreign terrorist group (or one with foreign roots), specifically an act of school terrorism. This is not to deny or ignore the existence of domestic terrorist organizations or the horror of their actions – this study will in fact have implications for their attacks as well. Not only are foreign Islamist terrorists groups our current “main enemy”, they have also shown that they know no boundaries in their attacks. The traditional taboo against school terrorism may be eroding away more quickly than ever. In an Institute for Counter-Terrorism paper, Monty Sagi writes:
“The Beslan atrocity showed that there are
no “red lines” for Islamic terror; it is limited
only by what it is capable of accomplishing,
not by normal civilized constraints or human
emotions. If the means are available, no
magnitude of destruction and death is “too
much” to joyfully carry out.”
And as Dr. Robert Friedmann, Director of the Georgia-Israel Law Enforcement Exchange program (GILEE) has stated, “To terrorists, schools are a very attractive target.” Clearly school terrorism is something we should consider in our school safety planning.
My decision to focus on school terrorism, and specifically terrorism on school buses, stems from two facts: transportation is a preferred target of terrorists worldwide, and an attack on a school-related target would strike into the heart of America with unprecedented force. Recent congressional testimony has stated that 42% of international terrorist incidents have focused on transportation systems as targets, and the FBI has stated that 40% of international mass transit attacks from 1920 to 2000 used buses as targets. More specifically, a compilation of terrorist incidents with schools as targets shows that about 37% of school terrorist attacks have focused on buses as targets. While neither of these numbers makes up a solid majority of incidents, this is a large enough percentage for a single target to warrant serious concern.
Buses are preferred targets for a few reasons. There is a high concentration of people in a small place, and high numbers of pedestrians or people on nearby buses may also be caught in the blast. This was seen in the 7/7 bombings in London, where one device was set off as two trains passed each other. In addition, during the summer and winter windows are kept closed on buses to maximize air conditioning or heat. This also maximizes the blast effect. An article from the RAND Corporation describes the effect:
“As a hail of shrapnel pierces flesh and breaks bones,
the shock wave tears lungs and crushes other internal
organs. When the bus’s fuel tank explodes, a fireball
causes burns, and smoke inhalation causes respiratory
damage. All this is a significant return on a relatively
modest investment. Two or three kilograms of explosive
on a bus can kill as many people as twenty to thirty
kilograms left on a street or in a mall or a restaurant.”
Lastly, it is very difficult, because of practicality and cost, to screen all passengers, as compared to screening visitors to a building or event. Buses are far less secure because of their mobility and predictability. Buses exposed along miles and miles of routes with very little possibility of complete security. This also makes it possible for terrorists to know bus routes in detail. After all, bus drivers are prided in consistency. In Israel the alertness of the public and improved screening techniques have led to a shift in tactics. America is still on her learning curve and has yet to adopt the same level of preparedness for any type of terrorism as Israel. Of course, Israel has a much higher rate of school terrorism than the United States. But they do have some very salient lessons for dealing with large scale acts of violence in schools.
So we know that the tactical reasons for bus attacks are strong. The strategic rewards are possibly even stronger. How many of us can recall with vivid imagination the two towers of the World Trade Center? How strongly would we be affected by an act of school terrorism? A school bus would represent an unforgettable target to the parents of the 24 million school children who ride to school each day. Today, the image of the two towers instantly brings back the memory of 9/11. After a school bus attack, every big yellow bus in America would remind us of the horror of the incident. America is perhaps more vulnerable to this not only because of our “it can’t happen here” attitude, but because of the use of standard school bus designs across the country, which would lend even more to the power of imagery.
Outlining the Paradigm Shift in Terrorism and School Terrorism
For America, 9/11 signaled a shift to what is often referred to as “the new terrorism”. This shift had long occurred in other parts of the world but had not yet been driven home in America. Traditionally, hijackings had previously been characterized by negotiations and tactical endings. Today, those tactics have been seemingly replaced by a combination of hostage taking and suicide bombing. This can be seen in the flights taken hostage and used as huge suicide bombs on September 11th, 2001. The terrorists followed this same approach in the Beslan school hostage crisis of September 1-3, 2005, the largest and deadliest act of school terrorism to date.
The Chechen terrorists were not willing to negotiate. Their true intentions may never be known. From what we know, it seems that they only spoke with authorities outside the school for the purpose of prolonging the incident as long as possible. This served to make the Russian government look as helpless and menacing as possible. After the first day of the crisis, for example, a videocassette was tossed out of a window to the assembled military perimeter. The footage showed the elaborate network of bombs connected to foot pedal detonators that would set off explosions if the terrorist controlling it moved his foot. This was a tactical nightmare for any team planning on storming the school, no matter how well prepared or armed they were.
At no point during the crisis were serious demands given, other than a desire to speak with President Putin. The other demands were too extreme to be serious. One outlandish demand requested a full Russian retreat from Chechnya. There is no doubt that this is a real desire for this on the part of the Chechens. But in this instance, the request served more as a “stump speech” than a demand likely to be met. The terrorists further confused matters by wearing masks – a sign of even the slightest chance of survival or escape. We now know that they stated repeatedly to the hostages that they came to the school planning to die.
Implications for America
John Giduck, a counter-terrorism expert who traveled to Beslan and chronicled his first-person view of the attack in Terror at Beslan, has stated that America needs to understand that in this type of attack, people will die, and there will be no happy ending. In a nation where we are relatively new to terrorism and accustomed to “happy endings”, such an attack would strike a heavy blow to America. While the Russian government can stonewall independent inquiries and shift attention elsewhere, the anguish and frustration of a no-win hostage situation with no feasible demands would bring America to its knees.
The effect of an incident of school terrorism in America would be even more intense than 9/11, because of the presumed safety & innocence of our children combined with the high level of safety that we are accustomed to in the school transportation industry. Each year, approximately 800 children are killed in motor vehicles during school travel hours. In a given year only five of those are killed while a passenger on a school bus. School buses represent 25% of miles traveled by students, but less than 2% of the fatalities. With such a high success rate, nothing but perfection is acceptable to the parents of America’s school bus riders. A brutal terrorist attack as we have seen in other countries would have a huge effect.
Examining the Threat of School Terrorism
It is clear that schools are a possible target for school terrorism. Aside from Beslan and the dozens of other school terrorism attacks over the past 37 years, it has been reported that the U.S. military has found information in Iraq pertaining to U.S. schools, and in September 2004 the FBI notified school districts in six states that photographs, diagrams, and emergency plans had been found in the possession of unidentified individuals. With institutions as large and prepared as the Georgia Institute of Technology posting their entire emergency plans on the internet, this is not surprising.
In addition, there have been hundreds of thefts of school bus radios in two states, along with an increase in thefts and vandalism of school buses and equipment across the U.S. This has obvious implications, including but not limited to the possibility that unknown individuals may be able to monitor or interfere with school bus communications, and even feed them false and dangerous instructions during or before an attack. At the very least, this would allow terrorists to better understand and plan around the communications equipment of an intended target.
It is also clear that our school transportation systems are vulnerable to attack because of outdated equipment and lack of training. There have been countless incidents of violence and hostage taking on school buses across the country, including one where a student used a sword to hijack a bus and take it across state lines before he was stopped.
In another well-publicized incident, a Miami Special Needs bus driver was fooled into taking her bus and students on a 75-minute ride by a hostage-taker who forced his way on the bus but did not actually have a weapon. While she was praised in the media and by the school bus industry for handling the incident incredibly well, she apparently argued with and disobeyed the hostage-taker repeatedly, and if there was an actual weapon involved students may have been injured. While we cannot judge her actions without knowing all details of the situation, this type of approach would clearly result in disaster if the attacker was an Islamist terrorist either sent or influenced by a group such as Al Qaeda.
Mohamad El Zahabhi
The clearest direct threat to the nation’s school transportation system is the case of Mohamad Kamal El Zahabhi, a Lebanese national who has worked at various times as a Boston cab driver, a New York City auto mechanic, and a Minnesota school bus driver for First Student, a private contracting firm that provides bus service to schools across the country. While it is not clear whether his service as a bus driver was just one of many jobs that he held while in the U.S. or if it was part of an attempt to gain access to a school bus, his history gives us concern.
He first came to the U.S. in 1984, and paid a Texas woman to marry him so he could obtain his green card. After divorcing and admitting to fraud in 1988, he traveled to Afghanistan where he attended a terrorist training camp and later served as a sniper in combat in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He also told FBI agents that he had served as an instructor at a jihadist school. During this time he allegedly met with a few notable individuals, including Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, of 9/11 fame, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
After being injured in combat, el Zahabhi returned to New York City, where he worked with a relative at Drive Axle Rebuilders, a business that he used to order and ship to Afghanistan large quantities of heavy-duty field radios. While radios of the same type have been found by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he denies knowledge of the shipments, saying that he never opened the packages that he was transferring. After serving as a cab driver in Boston from 1997 to 1998, he traveled again to Chechnya to serve in combat.
Returning to the U.S. in 2000, he moved to Minneapolis and on September 11, 2001 applied for a job as a bus driver with First Student. He had previously obtained his CDL and a HazMat certification under his Massachusetts driver’s license, and passed an FBI background check. The FBI declines to comment as to why he was cleared, since the case is under investigation. After starting as a driver in late 2001, el Zahabhi failed to report to work after the winter break and was fired in January 2001. He returned in February 2001 and asked for his job back, but was denied.
While his intentions are not clear, his ties to al Qaeda members and activities gives rise to concern – for example the assistance he gave to Raed Hijazi, the man convicted of the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan, when he allowed Hijazi to use his address in Massachusetts to receive mail and obtain a drivers license. He is currently being charged with lying to the FBI about this incident, along with other details.
Even if el Zahabhi did not intend to assist with or carry out an act of school terrorism, the fact that a jihadist combat veteran was able to become a bus driver in the U.S. is a sign of severe security gaps.
Federal Level Responses to School Terrorism
The federal government has responded to the threat of school terrorism with policy and publications intended for bus drivers. The first move was to designate school buses as “mass transportation systems” as part of H.R. 3162, the USA PATRIOT ACT. This extends federal jurisdiction and penalties to anyone who wrecks, attacks, uses as a weapon, or otherwise endangers bus employees or passengers.  This means that there is stronger legal support for preparing and responding to acts of school terrorism that occur on a school bus.
They have also produced, through the Transportation Security Administration, the “Employee Guide to School Bus Security: Identifying Security Threats” along with a quick reference card detailing awareness, identification of suspicious behaviors or packages, and brief tips on how to respond to various situations.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has released three alerts notifying school buses of heightened states of danger, and the United States Department of Education released a letter to U.S. schools & buses after the attack at Beslan, suggesting that employees look out for suspicious behavior. The letter also outlines various methods of surveillance and planning that may indicate the threat of school terrorism that might be observable to school staff or drivers.
State Level Action in Response to School Terrorism
There has been a larger effort on the part of several states, but these actions are usually disjointed and restricted to the state in which they are implemented. New Mexico, Minnesota, California, New York and Iowa have all either released a training video or implemented a training program for bus drivers on preventing and responding to terrorism. Georgia, the state with the largest state school safety center and the most comprehensive school bus security training program, has conducted numerous training conferences for drivers since the year 2000.
Industry Response to School Terrorism
It seems that the largest and most concerted efforts have been on the part of the school bus industry. The three largest trade associations (the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation (NASDPT) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA)) have partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s “Highway Watch” program. This partnership resulted in extended coverage of the ‘watch’ approach to a program called “School Bus Watch.” Under the program, training is provided for drivers, who receive an identification card and a phone number they can call to report suspicious behavior. The number connects them to a national hotline, where information is passed on to local law enforcement.
The NASDPT has released two position papers indicating a heightened awareness of the threat and the need for a response. These papers recognize that school bus drivers are the first line of defense against a school transportation attack. The National Conference on School Transportation has also discussed creating a school bus equipment guide for first responders, detailing the different types and designs of school buses and giving responding personnel a way to know how to deal with, enter, immobilize and operate a bus if necessary.
While much progress has been made since 9/11, it is clear that efforts are currently too thin and disjointed across the country. Some states have prepared their drivers substantially, but federal efforts have been too weak to have much effect. Industry efforts have been more widespread and in depth, they lack the mandate that a state or federal law might have. This leaves preparation up to the individual states, districts, and even schools themselves. As the Transportation Research Board noted:
policies and procedures and must make sure that employees
In addition to this lack of coverage and mandate, there has been a lot of focus on monitoring for unauthorized surveillance or suspicious activity. While this is obviously a very important step to take, schools may be too focused on this aspect. An unbalanced focus on a single measure can lead to a false sense of security. When schools are doing so much, they may feel that they are doing enough.
There is also a lack of effective education for the general public. As Beslan has shown us, the lack of a secure perimeter around an incident can hamper effective law enforcement response. We have even seen incidents in the U.S. where medical personnel have been forced to park their ambulances miles from an incident because of the rush of parents and well-wishers to the scene. This same phenomenon occurs in disasters in all types of settings. Schools need to be extremely thorough in their education efforts on procedures such as family reunification protocols and mass notification during a crisis.
While there is a clear threat to American schools of terrorism, it is important to remember that statistically the likelihood of an attack on a particular school is very low. This is even more true when compared to the very real occurrences of death and injury that we know will occur every year in our schools. Schools should of course prepare for terrorism, but with a balanced approach. A good starting point is the federally endorsed “All Hazards” approach. This planning model breaks planning down into four phases: Prevention/Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. This type of approach deals with terrorism like any other incident – not minimizing its importance but placing it within the framework of current emergency response capabilities. This prevents the fragmentation of planning and response and the frivolous waste of funds that we have often seen in response to current events and threats that are on the forefront in the mind of the public.
Sources: Sagi, Monty, “Ticking Bomb: Has the Countdown to Nuclear Terrorism Already Begun?” The Institute for Counter-Terrorism, September 11, 2004.
 Practical Information on Crisis Planning, U.S. Department of Education.