|1983 Beirut barracks bombing|
A smoke cloud rises from the rubble of the bombed barracks at Beirut International Airport.
|Date||October 23, 1983
|Attack type||Suicide truck bombs|
|Death(s)||241 American servicemen
58 French servicemen
2 suicide bombers
|Perpetrator(s)||Attributed to Hezbollah|
In the Beirut barracks bombing (October 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon) during the Lebanese Civil War, two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forcesâ€”members of the Multinational Force in Lebanonâ€”killing 299 American and French servicemen. The organization Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing, but that organization is thought to have been a nom de guerre for Hezbollahâ€”or a group that would later become part of Hezbollahâ€”receiving help from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Suicide bombers detonated each of the truck bombs. In the attack on the American Marines barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers, along with sixty Americans injured, representing the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. In addition, the elderly Lebanese custodian of the Marines' building was killed in the first blast. The explosives used were equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT.
In the attack on the French barracks, the eight-story 'Drakkar' building, two minutes after the Marine attack, 58 paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were killed and 15 injured, in the single worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War.
The blasts led to the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon, where they had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization following the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
At around 6:20 a.m., a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck drove to Beirut International Airport, where the 1st Battalion 8th Marines under the 2nd Marine Division had set up its local headquarters. The truck had been substituted for a hijacked water delivery truck. The truck turned onto an access road leading to the Marines' compound and circled a parking lot. The driver then accelerated and crashed through a barbed wire fence around the parking lot, passed between two sentry posts, crashed through a gate and drove into the lobby of the Marine headquarters. The Marine sentries at the gate were operating under rules of engagement which made it very difficult to respond quickly to the truck. By the time the two sentries had locked, loaded, and shouldered their weapons, the truck was already inside the building's entry way.
The suicide bomber detonated his explosives, which were equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT. The force of the explosion collapsed the four-story cinder-block building into rubble, crushing many inside. According to Eric Hammel in his history of the Marine landing force,
The force of the explosion initially lifted the entire four-story structure, shearing the bases of the concrete support columns, each measuring fifteen feet in circumference and reinforced by numerous one-and-three-quarter-inch steel rods. The airborne building then fell in upon itself. A massive shock wave and ball of flaming gas was hurled in all directions.
The explosive mechanism was a gas-enhanced device, probably consisting of bottled propane, butane, or acetylene, placed in proximity to a conventional explosive such as primacord, all of which are readily available on the retail market. Despite the lack of sophistication and ubiquity of its component parts, a gas-enhanced device can be a very lethal weapon. These devices are similar to fuel-air or thermobaric weapons, explaining the large blast and damage.
About two minutes later, a similar attack occurred against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, 6 km away in the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. Another suicide bomber drove his truck down a ramp into the 'Drakkar' building's underground parking garage and detonated his bomb, leveling the eight-story building and killing 58 French soldiers. Many of the soldiers had gathered on their balconies moments earlier to see what was happening at the airport
Rescue efforts continued for days. While the rescuers were at times hindered by sniper fire, some survivors were pulled from the rubble and airlifted to the USS Iwo Jima, located offshore, and/or to the hospital at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus or to U.S. and German hospitals in West Germany. An 18 year-old local woman was killed after firing several shots at a rescue team nearby.
In the attack on the American barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers. Sixty Americans were injured. In the attack on the French barracks, 58 paratroopers were killed and 15 injured, in the single worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War. In addition, the elderly Lebanese custodian of the Marines' building was killed in the first blast. The wife and four children of a Lebanese janitor at the French building were also killed.
This was the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II (2,500 in one day) and the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the 243 killed on January 31, 1968, the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The attack remains the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.
According to some observers a major motivation for the bombing was the ill will generated among Lebanese Muslims, especially ShiÊ¿a living in the slums of West Beirut and around the airport where the Marines were headquartered. They saw the MNF "not as a peacekeeping force but as another faction in the Lebanese war." U.S. troops particularly were seen as siding with the Maronite Catholics in their domination of Lebanon. Muslim feelings against the American presence were "exacerbated when missiles lobbed by the U.S. Sixth Fleet hit innocent by-standers in the Druze-dominated Shuf mountains."
Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the Marines in Beirut during the incident, has said that "the Marine and the French headquarters were targeted primarily because of who we were and what we represented;" and that,
It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support -- which I strongly opposed for a week -- to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on 19 September and that the French conducted an air strike on 23 September in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.
Other observers offer the same observation, while also recognizing that this is not the popular way to remember history; they also allege that some intellectuals and commentators on this issue have a skewed version of history.
Some analysts believe the Islamic Republic of Iran was heavily involved and that a major factor leading it to participate in the attacks on the barracks was America's support for Iraq in the Iran Iraq War, its extending of $2.5 billion in trade credit to Iraq while halting the shipments of arms to Iran, A few weeks before the bombing Iran warned that the providing armaments to Iran's enemies would provoke retaliatory punishment.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the attack a "despicable act" and pledged to keep a military force in Lebanon. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who had privately advised the administration against ever having stationed U.S. Marines in Lebanon, said there would be no change in the U.S.'s Lebanon policy. On October 24 French President FranÃ§ois Mitterrand visited the French bomb site. It was not an official visit, and he only stayed for a few hours, but he did declare: "We will stay." U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush toured the Marine bombing site on October 26 and said the U.S. "would not be cowed by terrorists."
In retaliation for the attacks, France launched an airstrike in the Beqaa Valley against alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guards positions. President Reagan assembled his national security team and planned to target the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards believed to be training Hezbollah militants. A joint American-French air assault on the camp where the bombing was planned was also approved by Reagan and Mitterrand. Defense Secretary Weinberger, however, lobbied successfully against the missions.
In fact, there was no serious retaliation for the Beirut bombing from the Americans, besides a few shellings. In December 1983, U.S. aircraft from the U.S.S. Enterprise CVN-65 battle group attacked Syrian targets in Lebanon, but this was in response to Syrian missile attacks on planes, not the barracks bombing. Multi service Ground support units were withdrawn from Beirut post attack on the Marine barracks due to retaliatory threats.
In the meantime, the attack gave a boost to the growth of the Shi'ite organization Hezbollah. Hezbollah denied involvement in the attacks but was seen by Lebanese as involved nonetheless as it praised the "two martyr mujahideen" who "set out to inflict upon the U.S. Administration an utter defeat not experienced since Vietnam ..." Hezbollah was now seen by many as "the spearhead of the sacred Muslim struggle against foreign occupation".
Amal militia leader Nabih Berri, who had previously supported U.S. mediation efforts, asked the U.S. and France to leave Lebanon and accused the U.S. and France of seeking to commit 'massacres' against the Lebanese and creating a "climate of racism" against the Shia. Islamic Jihad phoned in new threats against the MNF "pledging that 'the earth would tremble' unless the MNF withdrew by New Year's Day 1984.
The Marines were moved offshore where they could not be targeted. On February 7, 1984, President Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawal from Lebanon. This was completed on February 26, four months after the barracks bombing; the rest of the Multinational Force was withdrawn by April.
At the time of the bombing, several Shia militant groups claimed responsibility for the attacks, and one, the Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement, identified the two suicide bombers as Abu Mazen and Abu Sijaan.
After some years of investigation the bombing was thought to have been committed by the Lebanese Shia militant militia and political party Hezbollah while it was still "underground," though opinion is not unanimous. Hezbollah did not formally announce its existence until 1985 when it published a manifesto condemning the West and proclaiming "Allah is behind us supporting and protecting us while instilling fear in the hearts of our enemies." The U.S. government believes that elements that would eventually become Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, were responsible for this bombing, as well as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut earlier in April. Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have denied any involvement.
Two years after the bombing, a US grand jury secretly indicted Imad Mughniyah as the mastermind behind the bombing. Mughniyah was never apprehended and was killed by a car bomb in Syria on February 12, 2008.
Lebanese author Hala Jaber claims that Iran and Syria helped organize the bombing which was run by two Lebanese Shia, Imad Mughniyeh and Mustapha Badredeen:
Imad Mughniyeh and Mustapha Badredeen took charge of the Syrian-Iranian backed operation. Mughniyeh had been a highly trained security man with the PLO's Force 17 . . . Their mission was to gather information and details about the American embassy and draw up a plan that would guarantee the maximum impact and leave no trace of the perpetrator. Meetings were held at the Iranian embassy in Damascus. They were usually chaired by the ambassador, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi, who played an instrumental role in founding Hezbollah. In consultation with several senior Syrian intelligence officers, the final plan was set in motion. The vehicle and explosives were prepared in the Bekaa Valley which was under Syrian control.
Commentators argue that the lack of a response by the Americans emboldened terrorist organizations to conduct further attacks against US targets. Along with the U.S. embassy bombing, the barracks bombing prompted the Inman Report, a review of the security of U.S. facilities overseas for the United States Department of State.
On March 8, 1985 a truck bomb blew up in Beirut killing more than 80 people and injuring more than two hundred. The bomb detonated near the apartment block of Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shia cleric thought by many to be the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Although the US did not engage in any direct military retaliation to the attack on the Beirut barracks, the 1985 terrorist bombing was widely believed by Fadlallah and his supporters to be the work of the United States; Sheikh Fadlallah stating that `They sent me a letter and I got the message,` and an enormous sign on the remains of one bombed building reading: `Made in the U.S.A.`" Robert Fisk also claims that CIA operatives planted the bomb and that evidence of this is found in an article in the Washington Post newspaper. Journalist Robin Wright quotes articles in the Washington Post and New York Times as saying that according to the CIA the "Lebanese intelligence personnel and other foreigners ... had been undergoing CIA training"  but that `this was not our [CIA] operation and it was nothing we planned or knew about.`  "Alarmed U.S. officials subsequently canceled the covert training operation" in Lebanon, according to Wright..
Shortly after the bombing, American president Ronald Reagan appointed a military fact-finding committee headed by retired Admiral Robert L.J. Long to investigate the bombing. The commission's report found senior military officials responsible for security lapses and blamed the military chain of command for the disaster. It suggested that there might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial then the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily. The commission also noted that the "prevalent view" among U.S. commanders was that there was a direct link between the Navy shelling of the Muslims and the truck bomb attack.
Following the bombing and the realization that insurgents could deliver weapons of enormous yield with an ordinary truck or van, the presence of protective barriers (bollards) became common around critical government facilities in the United States and elsewhere, particularly in relation to Western civic targets situated overseas.
An article in Foreign Policy titled "Lesson Unlearned" argues that the U.S. military intervention in the Lebanese Civil War has been downplayed or ignored in popular history - thus unlearned - and that lessons from Lebanon are "unlearned" as the U.S. militarily intervenes elsewhere in the world
On October 3 and December 28, 2001, the families of 241 servicemen who were killed as well as several injured survivors filed a civil suits against Islamic Republic of Iran and the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  In their separate complaints, the families and survivors sought a judgment that Iran was responsible for the attack and relief in the form of damages (compensatory and punitive) for wrongful death and common-law claims for battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from an act of state-sponsored terrorism.
Iran (the defendants) was served with the two complaints (one from Deborah D. Peterson, Personal Representative of the Estate of James C. Knipple, et al., the other from Joseph and Marie Boulos, Personal Representatives of the Estate of Jeffrey Joseph Boulos) on May 6 and July 17, 2002. Iran denied responsibility for the attack but did not file any response to the claims of the families. On December 18, 2002, Judge Royce C. Lamberth entered defaults against defendants in both cases.
On May 30, 2003, Lamberth found Iran legally responsible for providing Hezbollah with financial and logistical support that helped them carry out the attack. Lamberth concluded that the court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, that Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian government and was completely reliant on Iran in 1983, and that Hezbollah carried out the attack in conjunction with MOIS agents.
On September 7, 2007, Lamberth awarded $2,656,944,877 to the plaintiffs. The judgment was divided up among the victims; the largest award was $12 million to Larry Gerlach, who became a quadriplegic as a result of a broken neck he suffered in the attack.
The attorney for the families of the victims uncovered some new information, including a National Security Agency (NSA) intercept of a message sent from Iranian intelligence headquarters in Tehran to Hojjat ol-eslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. As it was paraphrased by presiding U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth, "The message directed the Iranian ambassador to contact Hussein Musawi, the leader of the terrorist group Islamic Amal, and to instruct him ... 'to take a spectacular action against the United States Marines.'" Musawi's Islamic Amal was a breakaway faction of the Amal Movement and an autonomous part of embryonic Hezbollah.
Some in the U.S. government continue to hold that culpability in the Marine barracks attack is undetermined. In 2001, former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger stated: "But we still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport, and we certainly didn't then."
The former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky has accused Mossad of knowing of the plans for the bombing, but not informing the US government (Ostrovsky 1991). It has been suggested that the reason that Israel did not inform the US was that the withdrawal of US and French forces prevented them from interfering with Israeli operations in Lebanon. Critics such as Benny Morris, David Wise and others have argued that Ostrovsky's charges are essentially fiction.
The bombing was categorised by the United States as an act of terrorism.:191 But according to academic Oded Lowenheim, the U.S. Marines had become allied with the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and were actively engaging in battles, thus waiving their non-combatant status.:191 The U.S. still categorised this attack as an act of terror as it was directed against off-duty servicemen, which the U.S. defines as non-combatants.