Why New Year’s Eve is a prime terrorist target

On previous New Year’s Eve, terrorist attacks have indeed been carried out. Here is a sample.

It should come as a shock to no one that New Year’s Eve is a prime terrorist target in light of the crowds of people out celebrating.

Do you go out for New Year’s Eve? Do you go to parties, or restaurants, or to a friend’s house? Have you ever been to Times Square in New York to ‘watch the ball drop’ as a new year is ushered in? Is New Year’s Eve your ‘thing’?

Me? Not so much. I have rarely ventured out on the last evening of the year, even when I was much younger, preferring a quiet night at home. Sometimes my wife and I will watch a movie, sometimes I will read by a nice fire in the hearth. That is how I like to mark the occasion.

If you do head out, what precautions do you take? I hope at a minimum you have a plan for getting home as I, and many others, do not look favourably on driving while drunk. I imagine there are other things you do such as book a restaurant months in advance or seek tickets to that ‘must do’ party.

Do you take counter terrorism precautions?

My question is not meant to be facetious. Events like New Year’s Eve, which can draw tens of thousands of people in very cramped quarters, are ideal terrorist targets. What better way to attack large numbers of people, many of whom are in no position to defend themselves after having consumed copious amounts of alcohol?

On previous New Year’s Eve, terrorist attacks have indeed been carried out. Here is a sample.


In 2003 nine people were killed and 32 injured when a bomb exploded during a New Year’s Eve music concert in Indonesia’s strife-torn Aceh province. The government blamed the Gereka Aceh Merdeka (GAM – Free Aceh Movement in English), a terrorist group seeking independence for Aceh state in Indonesia. GAM denied it was behind the bombing.


Also in Indonesia, in 2005 a bomb exploded at a market popular with Christians in Palu, on Sulawesi island, killing seven people. In neighbouring Thailand, a series of bombs detonated across Bangkok in 2006, killing at least three people and injuring dozens, including several foreign tourists. Suspicion fell immediately upon Islamist extremists operating in southern Thailand (for a much more detailed look at this movement check out my 2017 book The Lesser Jihads).


In 2016 an improvised explosive device exploded outside a municipal gymnasium in the southern Philippines where a gathering for peace and unity was held on New Year’s Eve. Thankfully no one was injured: the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was believed to be behind the blast.


Finally, in 2018, a man yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ stabbed three people at Manchester’s Victoria Station on New Year’s Eve. Mahdi Mohamud is said to have become radicalised online, accessing extremist materials including how to “aid jihad” and “the seven most lethal ways to strike with a knife”. He also downloaded speeches by the infamous Anwar al-Aulaqi, a US-born Islamist hate preacher who was killed in a drone strike in 2011 in Yemen. Mohamud pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 2019.

The intent of this post is neither to scare nor intimidate you.

It is merely a reflection of some of what happened on the terrorism front in history. I found it interesting that a Wall Street Journal headline on an article on New Year’s Eve preparations from 2016 read “Europe tones things down amid terror threats”.

In closing I want to wish all my readers and followers a fun and safe New Year’s Eve and all the best for 2020. I will have much more content for you in the coming months. Thanks for your patronage and feedback!

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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