Subway attacks can instill great fear in urban populations. An explosion on an otherwise normal day is often an aggressive tactic employed by terrorist organizations to send the message they are capable of random destruction. These devastating acts of aggression often cause widespread panic, with massive numbers of casualties leaving average civilians concerned for their own safety. Some of the worst terror attacks in history have targeted public transportation, taking advantage of often lax security measures.
Why do terrorists and other organizations target subways? The reasons vary. Some metro bombers are acting for political reasons, trying to send a message to a perceived country or aggressor. However, oftentimes the reasons behind attacks are not politically motivated. The horrific 1995 Tokyo Sarin Attack, for example, was carried out by a fringe cult that believed the end times were near.
Whatever the reasons behind an attack, any subway bombing is a tragedy. People who died in such tragedies were innocent bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's important to be educated on such events, however, as world instability and a global rise in terrorism could mean such disasters will become more likely in the future. Education is key to understanding underlying issues that may contribute to the occurrence of such attacks. Here, you'll find a list of the deadliest subway attacks of all time.
2001 Angola Train Attack
Date: August 10, 2001
Location: Dondo, Angola
On August 10, 2001, the Angolan rebel movement UNITA derailed a passenger train with a landmine before attacking passengers with its forces. Over 200 people died in the attack and over 150 more were wounded. Angola was still in the midst of a three-decade long Civil War, and UNITA was likely attempting to embarrass the Angola government by showing a coming US delegation that Angola was still unstable.
2006 Mumbai Train Bombings
Date: July 11, 2006
Location: Mumbai, India
During the evening rush hour on July 11, 2006, a group of Islamic militants executed seven blasts throughout the Mumbai commuter train system. The first class compartments were targeted, killing over 200 people and injuring over 700 more. Investigations later identified 12 men, all part of a Pakistani-based militant group, as the responsible parties. All 12 men were convicted of murder, conspiracy, and waging war. Seven of them received a life sentence for their crimes while five were sentenced to death.
- Photo: JACK GUEZ / Getty Images
2004 Madrid Train Bombings
Date: March 11, 2004
Location: Madrid, Spain
Injured: More than 1,800
On the morning of March 11, 2004, 10 bombs exploded on four commuter trains across Madrid. The blast killed almost 200 people and injured almost 2,000 more. The attacks took place three days before Spain's general elections and many citizens wanted to know who planned and carried out the bombings before voting. It was initially suspected a Basque separatist organization was responsible, but later police shifted focus to the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. In 2007, 18 Islamic fundamentalists were convicted of the bombings.
2010 Gyaneshwari Express Derailment
Date: May 28, 2018
Location: West Bengal, India
On May 28, 2010, the Gyaneshwari Express derailed and was struck by a speeding train on in West Bengal, India. Maoist rebels were suspected to have been responsible for sabotaging the rails to cause the derailment as it was the first day of "Black Week." This is the name Maoist rebels gave to a series of protests that occurred from Friday to Wednesday. Approximately 148 people were killed during the incident and 200 more were injured.
2002 Rafiganj Train Disaster
Date: September 10, 2002
Location: Dhave River, India
Deaths: Estimated 130
The Howrah Rajdhani Express was on its way to New Dehli from Howrah when it derailed, killing an estimated 130 people and injuring over 150 more. Poor maintenance was blamed for the accident. However, subsequent reports found that sabotage may have been the true cause as several fish plates - the steel bars at the end of rails - appeared to have been purposely removed. The then railway minister speculated Maoists, the communist party of India, purposefully planned the attack.
1991 Punjab Killings
Date: June 15, 1991
Deaths: At least 126
In 1991, Sikh separatist gunmen boarded a passenger train in Punjab and opened fire. The attack was part of an ongoing movement for Sikh independence and the attackers specifically targeted passengers who looked Hindi. The attack came just two months before a Parliamentary election, and such attacks had been occurring frequently in the region at the time as an attempt to stall the electoral process.