April 18, 1983: Suicide car bombing at U.S. embassy in Beirut

On this day in 1983, a suicide bomber rammed through the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in a Chevrolet pickup truck and detonated his payload of roughly 2000 pounds of explosives.

BEIRUT, LEBANON – To paraphrase Justin Trudeau, a terrorist attack is a terrorist attack is a terrorist attack. So why are they not all remembered to the same extent?

This September will mark 20 years since the attacks in New York City on 9/11. The day will likely be marked with much solemnity and more fanfare than any other similar anniversaries – of which there are far too many already. Why is this?

Yes, the 9/11 attacks were unparalleled in human history. The fact that Al Qaeda (AQ) was able to hijack four planes and use them to inflict unimaginable civilian casualties ensures that this will (hopefully forever) remain the most (in)famous terrorist attack of all time.

However, it was by no means the first time Americans had been targeted by terrorists, though most earlier attacks did not occur on American soil. One might ask, even if the death tolls were lower, why are these other attacks not remembered with as much hand-wringing and prayers for the dead as happens every year with 9/11?

Out of all the times when Americans have been targeted by terrorists abroad, most of the attacks were carried out against military targets. Today’s featured attack is a notable exception.

On this day in 1983

A suicide bomber rammed through the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in a Chevrolet pickup truck and detonated his payload of roughly 2000 pounds of explosives. In the aftermath of the attack, 63 people were confirmed dead including 32 Lebanese workers, 17 Americans and 14 others. Of the Americans killed, one was a journalist and 8 were members of the CIA. Another 120 were wounded.

I was standing in my office with my telephone in one hand and a T-shirt in the other, getting ready to go out for my afternoon jog. All of sudden there was an explosion and my office collapsed. I couldn’t move.

American Ambassador Robert S. Dillon

The Islamic Jihad Organization, a group linked to Hezbollah, claimed responsibility stating they objected to the presence of foreign forces in the country. The forces they were referring to were a multinational group of peacekeepers and armed forces (including French, Italian and British personnel) which had entered Lebanon in 1982 to help negotiate a peace settlement between Lebanon and Israel.

A second attack

Unfortunately, this would not be the last large-scale attack against Americans in the region, and this time the military was targeted. A short 6 months later on October 23, an even larger bomb (12,000 pounds) was rammed through the perimeter of an American military compound also in Beirut.

This attack would claim an additional 241 American lives while a second bomb killed 58 French peacekeepers. Six Lebanese citizens were also killed in the twin attacks.

Five months following this second attack, the Lebanese government in West Beirut collapsed leading to the withdrawal of all foreign troops by Spring of 1984.

More than 250 American dead in two attacks roughly six months apart. Don’t these victims also deserve their sacrifices to be commemorated?

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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