Lebanon News

Survivors, widows recall 1983 US Embassy bombing

BEIRUT: Lebanese affected by  the 1983 bombing that destroyed the US Embassy on Beirut's seaside Corniche gathered to share recollections about their experiences this week, almost 25 years to the day after the attack. "I called my husband, who was an employee at the embassy, at five minutes to one and  asked him what he wanted for lunch," said one woman, now in her sixties, at an event sponsored by the new American mission, now located in the northern Beirut suburb of Awkar. "I hung up and heard a loud blast.

All of the participants spoke on condition of anonymity.

"A news flash on the radio reported a huge bombing in the Ras Beirut area," she recalled. "I was convinced my husband was OK. At three o'clock, he still hadn't shown up."

The April 18, 1983, bombing  claimed the lives of more than 60 people, mostly embassy staff members.

"We searched for his body for three whole days and nights before we found him buried under a pile of masonry and glass," the woman added.

She recounted how her eldest son, still a teenager back then, later joined one of the right-wing militias, "with the hope that one day, somehow, he will revenge his father."

Asked whom she thinks was behind the bombing and whether she was resentful, the lady first said: "I blame the whole world!"

"Actually," she added after a few seconds of reflection, "it is not worth blaming anyone when you lose someone dear because this will not make them come back."  

A shadowy group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the blast with a message promising not to allow "a single American to remain on Lebanese soil"

All nine participants, most of whom work at the US Embassy today, said it was the memory of their loved ones that made them speak out.   

"We consider our husbands and fathers martyrs like all other martyrs in this country but for some reason or the other everyone seems to have forgotten about them," said another woman widowed by the attack.

"Victims of Israeli massacres in Lebanon are remembered on a yearly basis ... but no one pays attention to our martyrs," she added.

One survivor of the attack interrupted the conversation to state that he blames Hizbullah for the 1983 attack.

"I hate them," he said self-assuredly. "Mind you I am Muslim," he added. "But the Koran is known to condemn such terrorist acts until dooms day."

The man went on to argue that it Imad Mughniyeh, the senior Hizbullah commander assassinated by a February 12 car bombing in Damascus, who plotted the attack.

"And they consider him a martyr," the man said. "I say he is a terrorist," he added to nods of approval from a couple of other participants.

Several of the women participants, however, collectively intervened, with one of them saying: "We are not here to blame anyone or to talk politics. We sit here to share our stories."

Many of the participants were quite emotional when chronicling their individual experiences; one woman, dressed in black, was particularly upset and would tear up at every story she heard.

She spoke about the psychological trauma she faced while taking part in the search for the body of her husband.

"I can never forget those moments," she told The Daily Star. "I saw the corpses coming out and the smell of death will never abandon me."

The device that struck the embassy was detonated by a suicide bomber driving a van packed with about 900 kilograms of explosives at approximately 1:00 pm. The van, believed to have been stolen from the embassy a year before, gained access to the compound and parked right in front of the mission's main gate, where it exploded. The blast collapsed the entire central facade of the seven-story semi- circular building, leaving the wreckage of balconies and offices in heaped layers of rubble.

The black-clad woman said she considered the 1983  bombing to have been "a lot more significant than [former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri's assassination" in February 2005.

"Dozens of innocent lives were wasted for nothing," the woman added.

Asked whether it was the US stance in Lebanon that made that country a favorite target for terrorist attacks, the participants expressed a consensus position that they or their loved ones were merely pursuing their careers and did not necessarily agree with US policy.

One long-term employee at the embassy, who survived the bombing, said the assailants did not realize that by targeting US institutions in Lebanon, they were risking more Lebanese lives than American ones.

"Such attacks will not discourage us and the proof is that ... we lost a number of dear friends but we are still working at the embassy," another employee said.

"Here [at the US embassy], were are able to better serve our country and people," her colleague added.

'The us was considered an occupation force'

Mirella Hodeib

Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut was the deadliest attack on a US diplomatic mission up to that point, and is seen by many analysts as marking a new phase in the activities of Islamist groups.

 "At the time, and this is true today, the US presence and intervention in Lebanese domestic issues was palpable," Hizbullah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb told The Daily Star.

A shadowy group called the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the bombing with a message promising not to allow "a single American to remain on Lebanese soil." Many observers believe that at least some of the group's members ended up with Hizbullah.

Saad- Ghorayeb said that any relationship between Hizbullah and the group that claimed the 1983 attack "is not clear or established."

"In 1983 there was no such thing as Hizbullah but rather individual resistance fighting Israel," she said.

"At the time the US was physically and politically present in Lebanon and took part in the [1975-1990] Civil War," she added.

The attack came in the wake of the intervention of the Multinational Force, made up of Western countries, including Americans, to try and restore order following the Israeli invasion of 1982 and the ensuring massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by militias allied to the Jewish state.

"The US was consequently considered an occupation force in addition to its political and military roles," the analyst added.

Asked whether similar attacks were likely to recur here, Saad-Ghorayeb said US institutions might be attacked by fundamentalist groups such as Al-Qaeda, "not only in Lebanon but in the whole region."

As for Hizbullah plotting such attacks, Saad- Ghorayeb said that the party's struggle "has long been against Israel."

"Even a retaliation for the death of [assassinated Hizbullah commander Imad] Mughniyeh will take place inside Israel," she added.

 

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