January 15, 2008 | Explosion targeting US personnel in Lebanon

Embassies and embassy staff are prime terrorist targets for a bunch of reasons and will likely always be so.

Warning: this blog contains graphic images

For a lot of people I imagine the most iconic photo they have ever seen is that of the World Trade Center towers on fire on 9/11. That event is seared in the minds of so many and for all the right (wrong?) reasons, although I have read that there is already a full generation born after that horrific terrorist attack for whom it does not mean as much.

9/11 is seared in my memory as well: I was working at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) on that day and will never forget watching the second plane hit the second tower. Some things don’t go away.

But at the same time, this was not the first mass terrorist attack I had ‘experienced’ as an intelligence analyst. In 1995 Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of explosives next to the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. When it detonated, 168 people were killed including a number of children who were in a daycare at the time. The image below is what sticks in my mind

Sheltered in my arms: Oklahoma City fire Captain Chris Fields carries Baylee Almon from the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City following the bombing. Baylee died a short time later
Oklahoma City fire Captain Chris Fields carries Baylee Almon from the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City following the bombing. Baylee died a short time later (Photo: AP)
There are others.

Another terrorist attack that also resulted in heart-rending photos was the October 1983 suicide bomber who drove a truck packed with explosives into the US Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. That same morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks two miles away in a separate suicide terrorist attack.

Lebanon has been ground zero for so many terrorist attacks that it is very hard to keep up. The reasons for this are varied: Lebanon is home to Sunni and Shia Muslim populations as well as Christian all of whom do not always get along; it is also home to terrorist groups such as Hizballah; Iran has long had significant influence in the region; and Lebanon abuts Israel, with which it has had a tempestuous relationship.

(Photo: AP)
Explosion targeting US personnel in Lebanon

On this day in 2008 a bomb exploded next to a US Embassy vehicle on a coastal road in Beirut, killing at least three motorists nearby but only lightly injuring two embassy workers. The attack transpired as then President Bush was visiting Saudi Arabia¬†on the first extended Middle East tour of his presidency (surprisingly very near the end of his second term). An American Al-Qaeda spokesman, Adam Gadahn, had urged followers in an earlier message to greet Bush with “bombs and booby-trapped vehicles.”¬† It is unclear whether the perpetrators were ever definitively uncovered.

In terms of casualties, this was a ‘minor’ attack and does not evoke the stark images cited above. Nevertheless it does point to the designation of foreign diplomats and diplomatic premises as prime terrorist targets. It is usually much easier to hit the ‘enemy’ in your own backyard, where you have a better lay of the land, access to networks, etc., than to do so on its home turf. That is why we see so many plots directed at embassies and consulates.

Military guards stand near where the bomb exploded. One American, a private citizen teaching in Beirut, was among the 20 people reported wounded.
Aftermath of the bomb (Photo: Bloomberg News)

Foreign representations serve to safeguard a nation’s interests abroad. Unfortunately they also serve as high value prizes for terrorists. This is very unlikely to change.