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New York City terror attack highlights threat of vehicle attacks

Protecting the U.S.

NEW YORK -- The truck attack in New York City that left eight people dead and at least 13 injured, including the suspect, is the first successful truck attack in the United States, says CBS News senior national security analyst Fran Townsend.

Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, says the only successful vehicle attack was in Times Square earlier this year when a man mowed down multiple people.

"I think authorities have been expecting this. After the Nice attack on the promenade, New York Police Department authorities went out to 148 truck rental locations that they kept in touch with, talked to, trying to identify these types of individuals that might do a terror attack. But we don't know where he got this truck from," Townsend said.

The 29-year-old suspect in the New York City attack has residences in Tampa, Florida, and New Jersey. Authorities will be trying to put together the legal basis to go search those places, Townsend said.

How deliberate was the timing and location of the NYC attack?

Investigators will look into what the suspect's motivations were and how he was inspired, said Townsend.

The truck driver was originally from Uzbekistan. The country has an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which formed in 1998 and in 2005 moved from an affiliate of al Qaeda to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Townsend said. She said investigators will see if he had any contacts with IMU or ISIS.

The attack on Tuesday happened in a place that was extremely vulnerable, and U.S. law enforcement has gotten better at protecting pedestrian areas over the years.

In August, former FBI assistant director Ron Hosko said it's "almost impossible" to defend sidewalks from vehicles "in an urban setting."

"I think there is a way with those high-concentration areas, and we see it outside of sports stadiums, we see it in other places, we see it right behind us, where it's a safer pedestrian area and tourist area and citizen area behind us than it is on the street," Hosko told CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

His comments came after Charlottesville police said James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring at least 19 others in a matter of seconds.

"There is no cost-effective way to secure every sidewalk in a major city -- there is none," Hosko said. "We can harden targets that are high concentration areas, but we're always going to be vulnerable."

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