"Double Blast Devastates Marines, French; Scores Dead"
"Double Blast Devastates Marines, French; Scores Dead"
Simultaneous Suicide Attacks Made by Islamic Jihad on American and French Compounds in Beirut, Lebanon
By: Terry A. Anderson
Date: October 23, 1983
Source: The Associated Press.
About the Author: Terry A. Anderson (1947–) was the head of The Associated Press Beirut bureau when, in 1983, he was kidnapped by a group of Hezbollah Shiite Muslims. He was eventually held for 2,454 days (about seven years) before being released. After being freed, Anderson actively publicized the right for freedom of the press, taught courses at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, appeared on various radio and television shows as guest and host, and wrote the best-selling book Den of Lions that was based on his experiences as a captive.
Beginning on August 20, 1982, a multinational military force composed of United States Marines and French and Italian soldiers began overseeing the peaceful withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO) from West Beirut during a civil war in Lebanon. However, from the start, the peacekeepers came in conflict with radical Islamists. In March 1983, U.S. Marines were attacked for the first time while on patrol. A month later, a suicide bomber drove a truck filled with 400 pounds of explosives into the U.S. embassy in Beirut, destroying the building, killing sixty-three people, and injuring 120 others. The suicide bombings prompted President Ronald Reagan, in September 1983, to add additional Marines in Beirut. However, the strengthened military presence only further angered the PLO.
In the early morning of October 23, 1983, near-simultaneous suicide truck-bomb attacks were made on American and French compounds in Beirut. In the first wave, Shiite Muslim fundamentalists drove a truck loaded with 12,000 pounds of dynamite through the outermost security perimeter of the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters near the airport. Then, the suicidal terrorists drove the truck into the military barrack and set off the explosives, which destroyed the building, killed 241 American military personnel as they slept, and seriously injured another eighty soldiers. At the time, the attack resulted in the largest loss of American lives due to a terrorist attack.
About 2 miles away and around two minutes later, a 400-pound bomb, driven by other members of the same terrorist group, destroyed a barrack within the French military base in West Beirut, causing the death of fifty-eight French paratroopers.
Islamic Jihad publicly claimed responsibility for both of these suicide-bombings. After the simultaneous bombings, United States intelligence analysts decided that Hezbollah, the secret terrorist organization within the Islamic Jihad, was behind the bombings. Analysts discovered that Hezbollah was first organized in 1982 by Lebanese clerics as a guerrilla group called the Islamic Resistance. It was financed by Iran and supplied with weapons by Syria. Its main focus was to reverse the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its later occupation of southern Lebanon.
A suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck packed with explosives into an airport building full of sleeping Marines early Sunday and blew up the four-story structure. The U.S. Embassy said at least 76 Marines were killed and 115 wounded.
Moments later another terrorist drove a car loaded with explosives into a compound a mile away housing French members of the multinational force in Beirut, and Lebanon's state radio said as many as 100 French soldiers were killed.
The U.S. Embassy said the death toll probably would rise in the worst attacks against the Marines and multinational force since it arrived in Beirut more than a year ago at the Lebanese government's request to help keep peace in the war-ravaged capital.
Frantic survivors, some wearing only their underwear, grabbed shovels to dig for moaning survivors trapped in the rubble of the building that had housed a battalion of leathernecks and the Marine communication center. Blood oozed from the shattered glass and concrete into pools on the ground.
"I haven't seen carnage like that since Vietnam," said Marine spokesman Maj. Robert Jordan. He said most of the Marines had been sleeping on cots when the pickup truck-bomb exploded, raining tons of rubble down on them at 6:20 a.m. (12:20 a.m. EDT).
U.S. Embassy spokesman John Stewart said the latest official casualty toll in the explosion at the Marine base was 76 dead and 115 wounded but that an "unknown number" of Marines were still believed missing.
At the French position, soldiers said the bodies of 15 men and three seriously wounded French troops had been recovered. Up to 85 were still buried in the wreckage, they said.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombings and U.S. officials said they had no idea who was responsible.
Witnesses said the bomber drove into the airport parking lot outside the Marine fence, where a sentry spotted the pickup and radioed headquarters. The truck then speeded up, smashed through a gate and a sandbagged guardpost, roared around another barrier and vaulted through the sandbagged lobby of the building where it blew up. It was unclear whether Marine sentries fired at the vehicle.
Sirens wailing, Lebanese ambulances and U.S. rescue vehicles careened to the blast scene and medics evacuated the dead and maimed. Helicopters flew casualties to U.S. warships offshore.
The most seriously wounded were flown to a British Royal Air Force Hospital in Nicosia, Cyprus, British officials said. Britain and Italy also have contingents in the multinational force.
President Reagan cut short a golf weekend in Georgia and flew back to Washington, where he was expected to meet with national security advisers.
In Paris, French Defense Minister Charles Hernu called the attacks "odious and cowardly" and flew to Lebanon to inspect the damage, France government sources said.
The terrorist blasts came one day after a U.S. convoy with 2,000 Marines assigned to replace the Beirut contingent were diverted to the eastern Caribbean because of the unstable political situation in Grenada. Many of the Marines killed Sunday had been preparing to leave.
Before this explosion, six Marines had been killed by sniper fire or artillery explosions around their airport camp and a seventh died when a mine exploded.
Lebanese army explosive expert Staff Sgt. Youssef Bita estimated the force of the blast at the U.S. and French centers at 660 pounds each. Jordan estimated the Marine compound bomb contained 2,000 pounds of explosives.
The Marine bombing was worse than the April 18 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in west Beirut in which 17 Americans and 32 Lebanese were killed.
It bore a strong resemblance to the embassy bombing, which U.S. officials at the time blamed on pro-Iranian Lebanese extremists. In that explosion, a suicide terrorist drove a small truck loaded with explosives through a gate to the entrance of the building.
Col. Timothy Geraghty, commander of the 1,600-man U.S. peace contingent, rushed to the blast scene to direct rescue efforts. He told reporters that some of the trapped leathernecks were still alive hours after the blast.
"These kind of things just harden our resolve and we will continue to do what we came here to do, and that is to provide assistance for a free and independent Lebanon," Geraghty said.
It can be fairly argued that the attacks were attacks of both religious and insurgent terrorism as they were directed against a peacekeeping force that Islamic Jihad viewed as an occupying force.
Islamic Jihad, under the guise of Hezbollah, continued with its terrorist activities after the bombing of the American and French compounds. In January 1984, the organization directed the killing of Malcolm Kerr, the president of Beirut's American University. In March 1984, the terrorists kidnapped, tortured, and killed William Buckley, political officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the U.S. embassy.
On March 31, 1984, President Reagan ordered American military personnel out of Beirut. At about the same time, the Italian and French forces were also evacuated by their respective governments, which ended the multinational peacekeeping effort in Beirut.
The removal of foreign military personnel in Beirut did not stop terrorists actions against the United States and its allies. Other Western officials and civilians were kidnapped including American and British professors from American University and journalist Terry Anderson, head of the Associated Press Beirut bureau. On June 19, 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked while flying from Athens, Greece to Rome, Italy.
The United States intelligence network had a difficult time deciding how to confront these terrorist threats because of insufficient information as to which specific group was actually responsible. White House analysts alleged that the Iranian government supported and directed terrorist actions in Lebanon. In response, the Reagan Administration pursued a policy of secretly selling military weapons to Iran (in order for the country to fight a war with Iraq) in exchange for the release of U.S. and allied hostages. Money from the sales was diverted to anti-Communist forces in Nicaragua. The actions eventually turned into what became known as the Iran-Contra affair.
The United States, by 1991, was able to negotiate the release of all hostages held in Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990, and the peace agreement allowed Hezbollah to maintain its position in Lebanon. Syria and Iran allegedly continued to supply Hezbollah with money, supplies, and personnel.
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