The 1983 barracks bombing was a major terrorist incident during the Lebanese Civil War. It occurred on October 23, 1983, in Beirut, Lebanon, where an international peacekeeping force was set up after the Israeli invasion in 1982.
On October 23, around 6:20 AM, a yellow Mercedes delivery truck drove to Beirut International Airport, where the United States Marines had their headquarters. It turned onto an access road leading to the compound and circled a parking lot. The driver gunned his engine, crashed through a barbed-wire fence in the compound parking lot, passed between two sentry posts, crashed through a gate, and barreled into the lobby of the Marine headquarters building. The Marine sentries had not had loaded weapons, and were not able to shoot the driver. According to one Marine, the driver was smiling as he sped past him.
The suicide bomber detonated his truck, which contained 12,000 pounds of TNT. The force of the explosion collapsed the four-story cinder-block building into rubble, crushing to death many inside. The FBI later concluded that the blast was the largest non-nuclear explosion they had ever seen.
About twenty seconds later, an identical attack occurred on the French Paratrooper barracks. A truck bomb drove down a ramp into the building's underground parking garage and exploded, leveling the headquarters.
Rescue efforts continued for days. While some was hindered by sniper fire, some lucky survivors were pulled from the rubble, and were air lifted to Cyprus or West Germany.
The death toll was 241 for the Marine Barracks attack: 220 Marines, 18 Navy Personnel, and 3 Army soldiers. 60 Americans were injured. In the attack on the French barracks, 58 paratroopers were killed, and 15 injured. In addition, one Lebanese died in the Marine barracks attack and two Lebanese died in the French bombing.
The attack caused the deadliest single-day death toll for the American military since World War II. The attack remains the deadliest terrorist attack on Americans overseas, and today it is the fourth-deadliest terrorist attack ever.
President Ronald Reagan called the attack a "despicable act" and pledged to stay in Lebanon. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said there would be no change in the US's Lebanon policy. On October 24 French president François 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." US Vice President George Bush toured the marine bombing site on October 26 and said the US would not be cowered by terrorists.
In retaliation for the attacks, France launched an air strike in the Bekaa valley against Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions. President Reagan assembled his national security team to devise a plan of military action, and planned to target was the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards believed to be training Hezbollah fighters. However, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger aborted the mission, reportedly because of his concerns that it would harm U.S. relations with other Arab nations. Except for a few shellings from the USS New Jersey off Lebanon, there was no real military response from the United States due to the barracks bombing; however, the US did become involved in several fights in Lebanon during their stay.
The Marines were later moved offshore where they could not be targeted, but in February 1984 the International Peacekeeping Force withdrew from Lebanon.
The responsibility for the bombing is uncertain. Most believe the Hezbollah militant group, backed by Iran and Syria is responsible for the two barracks bombings, as well as the April 1983 US Embassy bombing. Several Shiite militant groups claimed the attacks, and one, the Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement, identified the two suicide bombers as Abu Mazen, 26, and Abu Sijaan, 24.
Along with the April 1983 US Embassy bombing, this incident prompted the Inman Report, a review of the security of US facilities overseas for the US Department of State.
- Memorial to those killed (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/terror.htm)
- Iran responsible for barracks blast, says judge (http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/05/30/iran.barracks.bombing/)
- Impact of bombing, 20 years on (http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/10/21/lebanon.anniv.ap/)