Lebanon, Bombing of U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks
On two occasions in 1983, terrorists bombed United States targets in Beirut, Lebanon. The first target, on April 18, was the U.S. embassy, where 63 people, including 17 Americans, were killed. Half a year later, on October 23, the terrorists struck again, this time at barracks that housed members of an international peacekeeping force sent to help restore order in the war-torn nation. Killed in this second attack were 242 U.S. Marines, along with 58 French troops. Until September 11, 2001, the October 1983 assault would remain the most devastating terrorist attack on American citizens, and it remains the bloodiest terrorist assault on Americans outside of the United States. The group Islamic Jihad, affiliated with Hezbollah and ultimately Iran, claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The April attack, along with the simultaneous assaults on U.S. and French barracks in October, were all suicide bombings using vehicles laden with explosives. In the first bombing, the vehicle was a van that had reportedly been stolen from the embassy in June of the preceding year. At lunchtime on April 18, it slammed into the side of the seven-story building, and the driver detonated 2,000 pounds of explosives. The blast tore away the front portion of the building, leaving a site that looked much as the
Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City would after the attack there 12 years later. Among the dead were the entire U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Middle East contingent, several State department officials (including three USAID employees), several U.S. Army trainers and a Marine embassy guard, and journalist Janet Lee Stevens.
In the October 23 attacks, the terrorists struck two targets simultaneously, a maneuver that would be replicated by al Qaeda in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa 15 years later. The attack occurred on a Sunday morning at 6:22 a.m. local time, when a large Mercedes truck burst through the barrier surrounding the Marine compound and slammed into the first floor of the four-story concrete building. The driver then detonated his 12,000-pound bomb. At almost the same moment, a 400-pound bomb carried by a pickup truck exploded outside the nine-story French barracks.
The attack occurred just as the United States launched its first significant military operation since the end of the Vietnam War 10 years earlier: the assault on Grenada, a Caribbean island that had fallen under the control of a Marxist regime. Perhaps because of divided attention, combined with the sensitive nature of relationships in Lebanon, at that time a veritable no-man's land of warring factions, the United States took no significant overt retaliatory action against Islamic Jihad.
█ FURTHER READING:
Frank, Benis M. U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 1982–1984. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Marine Corps, 1987.
Hammel, Eric M. The Root: The Marines in Beirut, August 1982-February 1984. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.
Jenkins, Brian Michael. The Lessons of Beirut: Testimony Before the Long Commission. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1984.
Petit, Michael. Peacekeepers at War: A Marine's Account of the Beirut Catastrophe. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1986.
Beirut Memorial Online. < http://www.beirut-memorial.org/history/ > (April 7, 2003).
Cold War (1972–1989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Iran, Intelligence and Security
Israel, Intelligence and Security
Kenya, Bombing of United States Embassy
Libya, U.S. Attack (1986)
Middle East, Modern U.S. Security Policy and Interventions Reagan Administration (1981–1989), United States National Security Policy
Syria, Intelligence and Security