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The U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that kills 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was carried out in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon.
In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force featuring U.S. Marines landed in Beirut to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon.
The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10 but returned on September 29, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb, and on April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed. On October 23, Lebanese terrorists evaded security measures and drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. Fifty-eight French soldiers were killed almost simultaneously in a separate suicide terrorist attack. On February 7, 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced the end of U.S. participation in the peacekeeping force, and on February 26 the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.
1983 Beirut barracks bombings
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1983 Beirut barracks bombings, terrorist bombing attacks against U.S. and French armed forces in Beirut on October 23, 1983 that claimed 299 lives. The attacks, which took place amid the sectarian conflict of the extremely damaging Lebanese civil war (1975–90), hastened the removal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon in February 1984.
The multinational peacekeeping force, composed of troops from the United States, France, and Italy, arrived in Lebanon in August 1982 as part of a cease-fire agreement signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The troops were to oversee the safe and peaceful withdrawal of Yasser Arafat and the PLO from positions within Beirut and ensure the safety of the Palestinian civilians that remained behind. The withdrawal of the PLO was accomplished by early September, and the bulk of the multinational force soon withdrew to ships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, the assassination on September 14, 1982, of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel—the Phalangist leader of the Lebanese Forces, a unified Christian militia—sparked a wave of violence. Christian militiamen retaliated for Gemayel’s death by killing hundreds of Palestinians (estimates range from several hundred to several thousand) at the Ṣabrā and Shātīlā refugee camps. In the wake of the killings, troops were swiftly returned to Lebanon.
The situation seemed to have stabilized by early 1983, and a small group of British peacekeepers joined the existing force in February of that year. On April 18, 1983, the illusion of calm was broken when a car bomb destroyed the U.S. embassy in West Beirut, killing dozens of American foreign service workers and Lebanese civilians. Although the notion of using a car or truck to deliver explosives to a target was not a new one—the Irish Republican Army made extensive use of the technique throughout the “Long War”—the suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy represented a sea change in tactics for militia groups and terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
Israel and Lebanon signed a formal peace agreement the following month that called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, contingent upon Syria’s withdrawal. Syria opposed the agreement, however, and refused to retreat. In July Israeli troops began a unilateral withdrawal from positions within Lebanon that they had held since June 1982. Fighting between competing militias escalated in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal, and violence against the multinational force increased, with U.S. Marine positions routinely coming under small arms and mortar fire. Circumstances took a crucial turn, however, when U.S. gunships in the Mediterranean shelled Syrian-backed Druze militias in support of the Christian government the perceived role of the multinational force thus shifted from that of unaligned peacekeepers to active support of a particular faction in the Lebanese civil war.
This was the backdrop when on the morning of October 23, 1983, a dump truck packed with an estimated 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) of explosives crashed through the front gates of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The detonation ripped the four-story building from its foundation, and the barracks imploded in a matter of seconds. The 241 marines and sailors killed in the explosion represented the largest loss of life in a single day for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Within moments of the attack, a second suicide bomber drove into the barracks of a French paratrooper detachment in West Beirut. The explosion toppled the building, and 58 soldiers inside were killed. Within four months, elements of the multinational force began to withdraw to ships offshore, and on February 26, 1984, the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.
Remembering the 1983 Suicide Bombings in Beirut: The Tragic Events That Created the Diplomatic Security Service
On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber detonated a one-half-ton pickup truck laden with 2,000 pounds of TNT near the front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. It was the deadliest attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission to date, and changed the way the U.S. Department of State secured its resources and executed its missions overseas.
Members of the Diplomatic Security Service’s (DSS) predecessor organization, the Office of Security, were affected by the terrorist attack. Marine Security Guard Corporal Robert McMaugh was standing guard inside the front of U.S. Embassy Beirut’s east entrance when the blast exploded it killed him and destroyed nearly every floor of the building. Charles Light was the embassy’s Marine Security Guard detachment commander, and despite suffering severe shrapnel wounds and five crushed neck vertebrae, he worked around the clock for 18 days helping survivors, securing classified information, and recovering the dead.
Tragedy struck again in Beirut on October 23, 1983, when a suicide bomber drove a truck underneath the four-story building housing the U.S. Marine barracks and detonated 12,000 pounds of TNT. The explosion reduced the building to rubble and killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers. DSS Physical Security Specialist Richard Truman, a U.S. Marine at the time, was deployed to Beirut with Marine Helicopter Squadron 162 when the bomb went off. He recalls the post-blast triage as a “surreal experience” and the body recovery as one of the most difficult things he has ever done.
In December that same year, terrorists drove a dump truck filled with explosives through the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City and set off an explosion that destroyed the consular annex. No Americans were injured, but four local staff employed by the embassy were killed.
The suicide bombings in Beirut and Kuwait City were part of a larger shift in terrorist tactics that redefined diplomatic security and dramatically altered how U.S. officials perceived and responded to the terrorist threat. The Department of State convened a diplomatic security review panel, led by retired U.S. Navy Admiral Bobby Inman, which recommended the creation of mandatory minimum physical security standards for diplomatic facilities, budgeting for new construction and supplemental funding to upgrade existing office buildings, and elevating the State Department Office of Security to a bureau. Two years later, Congress and U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz authorized resources to create the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and “the principal element of the new bureau,” DSS. Shortly thereafter, President Ronald Reagan signed the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, providing the new organization with a formal structure.
Since then, the U.S. Department of State has implemented a number of countermeasures to harden U.S. facilities overseas, including anti-ram perimeter walls, passive and active vehicle barriers, parking standoff for screened vehicles, and window treatments such as laminated glass, shatter resistant film and locking mechanisms. These physical security requirements will be incorporated into the new U.S. Embassy in Beirut, for which the United States broke ground in April 2017.
First-hand accounts of the 1983 suicide bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut are available on the DSS website.
About the Author: Eric Weiner serves in the Diplomatic Security Service’s Office of Public Affairs.
The department of plots and schemes
Section I: Overview
On April 18, 1983 a suicide bomber in Beirut, Lebanon attacked the United States embassy, killing 63 people, mainly embassy staff and a large number of Central Intelligence Agency officers. The blast also killed several soldiers and one Marine, 17 of the dead were Americans. This was one of the first anti-U.S. attacks by Islamist groups and the largest and deadliest attack on the United States diplomatic mission at the time. The attack was carried out to break down relations between the Lebanese government and the western nations that had pledged troops to maintain stability after the Lebanese Civil War.
Several months later, on October 23, 1983, a second attack by suicide bomber was carried out on the Marine barracks in Beirut, this time killing 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers. This attack was the single deadliest attack on the Marine Corps since the battle of Iwo Jima. (Swenson, 2004)
Both of these attacks were reportedly carried out by the Islamic Jihad Organization, an extremist group formed to repel Israel and other westerns from Beirut, Lebanon, who had been operating in the area since a Beirut car bomb attack on the French embassy a year earlier.
These efforts by the United States were to maintain order until a fixed government could be established. The multinational forces had been sent in after the Shabra and Shatilla massacres and Israeli’s withdrawal far from the capital and were steadily exiting the country. Also at the time, the Palestinian Liberation Organization had backed out of the city as their main enemy, Israel, had left. The Islamic Jihad Organization was very opposed to western influence in the region, and many believe to be the precursor to Hezbollah, which didn’t officially exist at the time. The Islamic Jihad Organization was believed be sent from Iran directly from the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the name used to confuse ties between Iran and terrorist attacks on the West. (Goldburg, 2002)
Section II: Pre-Event/Event Actions
Like most suicide bomber attacks, there is almost a complete element of surprise on the tactical ground level. There can be intelligence indicators that point to one group or another, showing their willingness for suicide attacks, their collection of explosive material, or other preparations that would lead to such a large series of attacks. After the embassy bombing there was a search into Shia Muslims only because they had historically been more likely to conduct a suicide attack. This clue however, should have been pursued before hand with the recruitment and placement of assets into extremist organizations as well as the groups they would undoubtedly rely on for their supplies. (Baer, 2003)
As would typically occur from an cell moving into operational region, there is hardly any indicators leading up to the attack, additionally with the small size of the organization, it would be difficult to find a willing agent to infiltrate due to their compact nature. (Kennedy, 2008)
For both attacks, the guards in front of the buildings did little to stop the target vehicle as it drove over barriers, up staircases, or through concertina wire. The guards at the American Embassy simply jumped on the ground and prayed, the guards at the Marine barracks however, had no magazines in their weapons and no bullets in the chamber. Only one Marine was able to load a magazine and chamber a round but by then, the truck was already inside of the building. The reason for this level of security, only months after the Embassy bombing, was that the Marines were seen as a peacekeeping force and wanted to not look “War-like”. (Kennedy, 2014)
The surprise continued well after the attack as a search carried on for the bombers. While there were individuals arrested and several groups claimed responsibility, it was a case of “rounding up the usual suspects”. (Baer, 2003) There was a complete incineration of any evidence at the crime scenes, even to the extend where the bomb maker put a small amount of explosive into the initiation devices so it would be destroyed as well. (Baer, 2003)
As true with all suicide attacks (With the exception of the bomber harmlessly taking his own life) there is always a level of emotional stress that is dealt to the surviving victims as well as the American Public. These suicide attacks are the highest level of surprise attacks, the main reason being that there is no intention of the attacker to survive them. This means there is only need for a small group of people to plan, create, and carry out the attack, and it can be done with hardly any indication that it is coming. These attacks eventually ended in the United States and the “Westerners” exit from the region.
Section III: Missed Indicators
During the 1980’s, there was nothing but complexities in Beirut, Lebanon. Israel’s 70,000 men “Peace for Galilee” force had invaded after the assassination attempt of the Israeli prime minister, there mission was to drive the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the southern section of Lebanon and to keep distance between the Syrians who were using Lebanon as an operational ground for Syrian interest. After Israel’s invasion of the region, their historical enemies began to also flood the region in order to get a chance to attack them outside of Israel. They were then pushed from the region after the Israeli commander was assassinated with a car bomb as he was giving an Israeli reporter a tour through the city. (Baer, 2014)
There were both Shia and Sunni militant groups who were very active in the city, as well as Christian fighters all fighting for dominance over the city. This made the city a dangerous spot for any diplomatic, peacekeeping mission. Imad Mughniyah, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Organization and later Hezbollah, had been running operations in the region for a while, he is believed to behind all of the bombings including the Israeli commanders assassination. This man’s presence in the region was a huge indicator that security level should have been held in high regard.
The United States allowed the terms of “Peacekeeper” and the public opinion to sway their ability to protect their own people from dangerous terrorists in a highly unstable region.
Section IV: Lessons Learned
Both the Embassy and the Marine barracks had security however, local Lebanese soldiers ran them. They entrusted these experienced Lebanese to check vehicles as the drove in to the area though they were making it in with only precursory inspections. The security of our personnel should not have been left to an outside force, even if they were trained. There is always the possibility of a green-on-blue attack (where one of a host countries friendly force fires upon United States, or Western forces) when there is little control over who is coming in and out of a base.
The Marines in Beirut had no clear mission and no tools to act with. They were deprived of ammunition and the ability to build better fortifications from around their barracks in a region in the middle of civil war and with a history of successful suicide attacks on Americans. The Marines should have been allowed to do what was needed to protect them selves or at least be moved off shore if for some reason this was impossible. Marine guards should also have been posted outside of the embassy and allowed to put in the necessary fortifications that would be on par with a war zone forward operating base.
Finally, there was little to no indication of the attacks coming other than probabilities of sitting of a war zone. It would also be difficult to plant an agent inside one of Imad Mughniyah’s organizations without them becoming suspicious however, if there were successful recruitment in the supply chain, it could potentially indicate when someone was making a large offensive.
In his book, 21 Laws for Assassins, Robert Baer (2014) goes into detail on his chase for Imad Mughniyah and how the closest he ever came to targeting the man for the embassy and Marine barracks bombings, was after a Christian militia arms dealer came forward because Imad Mughniyah had purchased are large amount of ordinance to fight another Arab group. This shows us that today human intelligence is the most effective way to see any type of indicator for a suicide attack.
How Suicide Bombers Work
Jihad washed across the Middle East up until the eighth century. In 1095, European Christians launched their own version of sanctified warfare in the form of the Crusades, a military conquest of the Holy Lands. Jews, Christians and Muslims all developed a way to reverse death through concepts of afterlife and rebirth. To this day, there is little violence that can't be justified with the right holy scriptures.
Such faith, when combined with sufficient will, can prove an effective weapon for those who wield it. Yet there's only so much a willing warrior martyr can accomplish with a sword or dagger. Outside of traditional army service, this restricted the use of such holy warriors to the role of assassin. In fact, the term itself comes from the Persian word Hashishin, the name of a medieval radical Shiite sect. The work of the Hashishin, or Assassins, was the public murder of influential leaders -- true suicide missions.
The Assassins used their martyr tactics to pursue political ends, spreading terror and awe through the crowds who bore witness to their attacks. The sect was eventually wiped out by the invading Mongol hordes in 1257, but its legacy would continue centuries later.
The development of gunpowder made it possible for martyrs to yield even greater results. Japanese kamikaze pilots used suicide tactics during World War II. Inspired by dedication to their emperor and their traditional code of honor, they crashed explosive-laden planes directly into enemy ships.
The first known modern suicide bombing attack occurred in Lebanon in 1981 during a civil war between Christian and Muslim militants [source: PBS]. A lone Shiite suicide bomber struck the Iraqi embassy in Beirut. The United States entered the conflict the following year, leading to accusations of Christian bias from Muslims in the region. In 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into the city's U.S. embassy, killing 63 people [source: Daragahi].
Many historians point to these incidents as the birth of the modern suicide bomber. In the decades to follow, the world would see the rise of such tactics throughout the Middle East, India, ]Sri Lanka, Chechnya and the United States.
The Persian word Hashishin derives from the Assassins' alleged ritual use of hashish, a potent form of cannabis.
U.S. Embassy in Beirut is Bombed - 1983
O n April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that kills 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was carried out in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups.
During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force featuring U.S. Marines landed in Beirut to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon. The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10th but returned on September 29th, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb, and on April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed. On October 23th, Lebanese terrorists evaded security measures and drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. Fifty-eight French soldiers were killed almost simultaneously in a separate suicide terrorist attack. On February 7, 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced the end of U.S. participation in the peacekeeping force, and on February 26th the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:
Justice on Fire
On the night of November 29, 1988, near the impoverished Marlborough neighborhood in south Kansas City, an explosion at a construction site killed six of the city’s firefighters. It was a clear case of arson, and five people from Marlborough were duly convicted of the crime. But for veteran crime writer and crusading editor J. Patrick O’Connor, the facts—or a lack of them—didn’t add up. Justice on Fire is OConnor’s detailed account of the terrible explosion that led to the firefighters’ deaths and the terrible injustice that followed. Also available from Amazon
Remembering the 1983 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City
Smoke hangs over the compound of the United States Embassy in Kuwait, Dec. 12, 1983 after a car bomb exploded. The attack was one of six in Kuwait, in which at least two people died, and another fifty were injured. (AP Photo/Chris Edwards)
On December 12, 1983, terrorists drove a dump truck filled with explosives through the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City. No Americans were injured, but the blast destroyed the U.S. Consulate building and heavily damaged the chancery. Four days after the attack, the U.S. Department of State ordered its embassies to erect barricades and take further measures to prevent truck bomb explosions.
The suicide bombing in Kuwait City and two other suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, led to a comprehensive review of overseas security and the Department’s establishment of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) on November 4, 1985. Secretary of State George Shultz asked Assistant Secretary of Administration Robert Lamb to direct the new DS Bureau. Lamb, an early supporter of DS efforts to accelerate the development of embassy security programs, shared his thoughts with DS Public Affairs (read excerpts from the 2012 interview below).
The first embassy suicide bombing occurred in Beirut in April of 1983. In December of 1983, a truck bomb blew up an embassy building in Kuwait. In September of 1984, a suicide bomber attacked the embassy annex in Beirut. It was clear that these were changing times for us.
We were building embassies with a lot of glass in the 1950s to demonstrate the openness of American society and contrasting it with the Communists. In Africa, for example, we even built an embassy on stilts, and the idea was that demonstrators could riot underneath while embassy employees continued their work upstairs. The concepts were satisfactory for the time, but they turned out to be fairly naïve when we faced real security threats.
One of the things we learned from the bombings in Beirut was that we were going to have to fashion a new approach to embassy security. There was no real alternative to setback and physical restraints to keep suicide bombers and terrorists outside of our embassy grounds. We also had to construct embassies differently because construction materials used in the building caused many of the casualties in these early bombings. In Kuwait, the truck bomber blew up a cinder block wall that broke up and created shrapnel, which endangered our people in the embassy compound.
We did a lot of fresh research into construction technology and developed a setback requirement and new construction standards that made our embassies and diplomats safer than they were before.
On the 36th anniversary of the Kuwait City bombing, the security environment overseas remains as dynamic as ever and well-trained Diplomatic Security Service professionals continue to protect our embassies and diplomats against evolving threats.
Suicide bomber destroys U.S. embassy in Beirut - HISTORY
LINKS & RESOURCES
Hezbollah, the Region and U.S. Policy
Although U.S. officials vowed no change in U.S. policy as a result of the attack, the next strike proved harder to shrug off. Less than a month later, on April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with high explosives into the U.S. embassy in Beirut. The blast killed 60 people, including 17 Americans. Hours later, an organization called Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
U.S. intelligence sources began suggesting that Islamic Jihad was simply a cover used by Hezbollah for carrying out its terrorist attacks. This charge was repeatedly denied by Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who insisted that Hezbollah stood for moderation and restraint. When asked by Western reporters to clarify Hezbollah's objectives, he responded in vague terms: "It is a mass movement that concentrates on facing political problems. Maybe it is closer to the Islamic revolution in Iran than others due to its religious commitment."
Debate Over U.S. Policy
The arrival in Lebanon of more American soldiers was met with swift and devastating force. On October 23, 1983, a truck bomb destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks at the Beirut airport, killing 241 American soldiers. Until September 11, 2001, this was considered the greatest loss in U.S. history of American lives in a terrorist attack. Islamic Jihad once again claimed responsibility.
While the Reagan administration considered a military response to the truck bombing, Islamic Jihad continued its campaign against American targets. In January 1984, Islamic Jihad gunmen killed Malcolm Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut. Months later, William Buckley, chief of the CIA's Beirut station, became Islamic Jihad's first American kidnap victim. Buckley was eventually smuggled to Teheran via Damascus aboard an Iranian plane. He died in Iran after being tortured.
The lasting impact of 1983 Beirut attack
The Marine barracks bombing 25 years ago ushered in a new era of large-scale Al Qaeda attacks against the US and its allies.
The blast rippled across Beirut just after dawn, throwing Khodr Hammoud out of bed and stumbling to his front door.
Gazing across the packed houses of the Shiite-populated slums east of Beirut airport, the young Shiite resident saw a huge plume of smoke rising into the pale sky.
A suicide bomber had just hit the barracks housing the US Marines beside Beirut airport. The blast 25 years ago on Thursday killed 241 Americans, almost all of them marines, in what remains the highest fatality toll for the Corps in a single day since Iwo Jima in World War II.
"When I heard that marines had been blown up, I couldn't believe it," says Mr. Hammoud. "We didn't think of [the Marines] as an enemy then like we do now."
The bombing that left the Reagan administration's Lebanon ambitions in tatters continues to reverberate today in shaping US diplomatic, political, and counterinsurgency policies toward Lebanon and the Middle East.
"It was a turning point in asymmetrical warfare, especially in the Middle East," says Timur Goksel, a security analyst and former long-serving United Nations peacekeeper in south Lebanon. "All those people who couldn't fight powerful armies such as the United States suddenly found an easy way of balancing strength on the ground. That was the beginning and we have been seeing it ever since."
The attack exposed the vulnerabilities of even a superpower such as the US, which found itself unable to retaliate against its shadowy and anonymous adversaries, and ushered in a new era of grand-scale bombings – the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 – that reached its apogee on Sept. 11, 2001.
"In terms of significance it forced us out of Lebanon – and a cascade of attacks of the same nature forced us into the crusader castles that we live in today in the Middle East," says Robert Baer, a former Central Intelligence Agency field agent who operated in Beirut in the 1980s.
The tactic was first used against the Americans in Beirut six months earlier when the US Embassy was destroyed in a suicide car bomb blast that claimed the lives of 57 people. But the first suicide car-bomb attack had occurred three years earlier when a militant from the Dawa Party, an Iraqi opposition group, car-bombed the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut.
While the 1983 barracks bombing was not the first attack using an explosives-packed vehicle, it was the first to have a major political consequence.
The bombing broke the spine of US policy toward Lebanon, and four months later the marines had been withdrawn from the country, effectively ending Washington's involvement in war-torn Lebanon for another five years.
Iran is generally cited as the chief suspect in ordering the attack, with Lebanese Shiites carrying it out. Lebanon's militant Hezbollah is often blamed, although it was still coalescing in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley at the time and would not formally announce its existence for another 17 months.
Imad Mughniyah, who was posthumously identified as Hezbollah's top military commander following his assassination in Damascus, Syria, in February, often is linked to the attack on the marines. To this day no evidence has publicly emerged to clarify who was responsible.
"We never even narrowed down the name," says Mr. Baer.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has cited Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon as a key motivator for his decision to participate in the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. And it was Mr. bin Laden who emulated and adapted the suicide car bomb tactic first used by Shiites in Lebanon.
The marines were based around Beirut airport at the southern end of the city, barricaded in a bombed-out building known as the BLT – the Battalion Landing Team. The Americans – part of a multinational peacekeeping mission – generated little public hostility initially – most Lebanese were happy at the sight of foreign soldiers helping maintain stability in a country that had been at war for eight years.
But the US found itself in the months ahead sucked into Lebanon's chaos as it lent ever-greater support to the Lebanese government and Army then battling pro-Syrian Druze militiamen. The US came to be regarded as just another faction in the civil war.
By Oct. 22, the 1,600-strong Marine force had suffered seven fatalities and 47 wounded. The next morning at 6.30 a.m., while the American servicemen were asleep in the BLT, a truck accelerated though the barbed-wire obstacles and crashed into the lobby of the building and exploded. At the same moment, another suicide bomber drove into the French paratroop headquarters, killing 58 people.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations concluded that the bomb used to flatten the Marine barracks – which had an explosive force comparable to 12,000 pounds of TNT – was the largest ever nonnuclear blast investigated by explosives experts.
In February 1984, the Lebanese Army collapsed, Reagan ordered the withdrawal of the marines and, 11 days later, the last of them had departed Lebanon, bringing to an end what Caspar Weinberger, the defense secretary, described as a "particularly miserable affair."
Lebanon: A History of Bombings and Attacks
Beirut, Lebanon: On Tuesday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian embassy. 23 people were reported dead and 146 injured according to Lebanon’s Ministry of Health. The Iranian cultural attaché Ebrahim Ansari was among the dead. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a radical Sunni group, claimed responsibility via Twitter. Declared a terrorist group by Washington in 2012, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are allegedly responsible for an attack on a Japanese oil tanker in 2010 in the Straits of Hormuz. They have also planned other attacks against Western interests in the Middle East. The brigades demand their compatriots released from Lebanese prisons and that Iran stop backing Hezbollah in the Syrian Civil War. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades fight on the side of the rebel army. The history of bombings and attacks in Lebanon has changed with the Middle East. Being in the center of it all, Lebanon is the perfect barometer for the region. The most recent attacks come in connection with the Syrian Civil War. But a good look at this Lebanon’s history can shed light on where the region has been and where it’s going.
Syria’s power, influence and affairs have been spilling over into Lebanon for hundreds of years. In fact, they used to be the same country. Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516-1918. After World War I Syria was given to the French by the League of Nations. From there it was split into two countries, Syria and Greater Lebanon. Lebanon stayed a French colony until 1944 when France agreed to allow Lebanon its independence. Because the country is so religiously diverse, a power sharing system was put in place. A Maronite Christian took the presidency, a Sunni Muslim the prime minister’s position and a Shia Muslim would be the Speaker of the Chamber of Duties. The system worked. However, some believed that power was concentrated too much in the hands of the Maronite Christians.
In 1958 U.S. marines were sent to Lebanon on President Camille Chamoune’s request to quell Muslim opposition to his rule. Though things calmed down on the surface for almost two decades, the seeds of this conflict bud into the Lebanese Civil War.
Though Lebanon doesn’t get involved like many of its neighbors in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, its southern region becomes a base for Palestinians to plan and conduct attacks on Israel. This in turn leads to an Israeli invasion. Israel invades twice during the seventies and eighties to wipe out the PLO and help establish a pro-Israel and pro-Western government. Lebanon then is split in two. The first part supported by the West and ruled by the Christians, and the other supported by Iran, Syria and those who oppose the West. East Beirut is supported by Israel, West Beirut by Syria. The PLO is eventually wiped out.
Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War starts when Phalangists attack a bus killing 27 riders, mostly Palestinians. They say this is in revenge for a church that was attacked in their district by Muslim guerillas. This sparks a string of tit-for-tat battles. In 1978 Syria has had enough and invades, with the approval of other Arab nations, to stop the violence.
Throughout the history of this fifteen year bloody conflict, Lebanese civilians are rattled by vehement attacks and intermittent bombings. People around the world see victims on the news periodically, neighbors and loved ones crying, ambulances with lights flashing, cars blackened smoking husks, twisted and torn apart.
In April 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was attacked. A 400-pound truck bomb, driven by a suicide bomber, killed 63 people. 17 Americans died. U.S. intelligence in the region is also set back. The explosion wiped the CIA’s Middle Eastern headquarters right off the map.
An infamous date in the minds of many marines and civilians, October 23, 1983 was the date of the deadliest attack on Americans prior to 9/11. Terrorists hijacked a 19 ton water truck, loaded it down with tens of thousands of tons of TNT, and drove it over a barbed wire fence into the barracks of a marine base. They detonated their explosives in the center of the base, killing 241 U.S. servicemen. This was the single largest non-nuclear explosion in history. The crater it left was eight feet deep. The base lay in rubble. Those military units had been in Lebanon as part of a larger international peace keeping force. They were trying to stabilize the country. Hezbollah with support from Iran has been blamed for this attack.
East Beirut was invaded by Syria in 1990 deposing the Western backed president and ending the civil war. In 1991 the National Assembly passed legislation disbanding all the militias, except Hezbollah which was too powerful to dislodge. Hezbollah attacked Israel with rockets periodically. Israel in turn bombed Hezbollah positions and strongholds. Syria continued its stranglehold on Lebanon and its influence on Lebanese politics.
In February 2005 a car bomb in Beirut killed President Rafik Hariri, who opposed Syria. Anti-Syrian protests filled the streets causing Syrian troops to finally leave that April. Syrian troops had been a presence in the country since the end of the civil war fifteen years earlier.
In July and August of 2006 Israel goes to war with Hezbollah after the terrorist group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. A terrorist organization now entrenched in the south Hezbollah launched hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Israel bombed Hezbollah targets in response. Lots of damage was done to the infrastructure of southern Lebanon. But in the end, Israel failed to dislodge Hezbollah, making the terrorists grip stronger and increasing their prestige among those who admire them. Hezbollah in addition to its military arm has its own schools, services and government offices and even has representatives in the Lebanese parliament.
On October 19, 2012 a car bomb exploded during rush hour in Beirut’s center, killing eight and wounding 80. Among the dead is Wissam al-Hassan, a top intelligence official. Al-Hassan was investigating the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri at the time. It was thought that either Syria or Hezbollah was behind the assassination plot, though both have vehemently denied these allegations. The bombing took place in a mostly Christian area of the city. This event highlighted the deep divide in Lebanon between those backing the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad and those backing the rebel forces.
27 died in two bombings that took place in Tripoli Last August. The bombers were linked to rebel fighters in Syria. In early November of this year, a Hezbollah stronghold in a Beirut suburb was car bombed killing 22 and injuring hundreds. This latest attack also displays how the Syrian Civil War is spilling over into Lebanon.