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March 1985 Beirut car bombing
Part of Lebanese Civil War
Location Beirut
Date 8 March 1985
Target Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah
Attack type
Car bombing, attempted assassination
Deaths 83
Non-fatal injuries

On 8 March 1985, a car bomb exploded between 9[1] and 45 metres[2] from the house of Islamic cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut, Lebanon, in a failed assassination attempt allegedly organized by the American CIA and British intelligence. The bombing killed more than 80 people and injured 200, almost all civilians.[1]

Three other car bombs also exploded in Beirut in 1985: on 22 May, 14 August and 18 August.[3]

The blast[edit | edit source]

The bomb explosion, estimated to have been equivalent to 200 kg (440 lbs) of dynamite,[1] occurred in the western Beirut suburb of Bir al-Abed, outside an apartment building. It killed worshippers, mostly women and girls, leaving Friday prayer services at an adjacent mosque, and destroyed two 7-story apartment buildings and a cinema.[4]

While several of Fadlallah's bodyguards were killed in the attack, the cleric escaped injury as he was attending Friday prayers at a nearby mosque.[4]

Locals fired guns in the air, following the blast, trying to clear the roads to allow ambulances to pass.[5] A banner was strung across the blast site by locals, reading "Made in USA."[6]

Historical context[edit | edit source]

In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first U.S. President to forbid political assassination, in the wake of the Church Commission,[7] issuing Executive Order 11905.[8] In 1981, President Ronald Reagan strengthened the policy with Executive Order 12333, which decreed that "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." This Executive Order remains in effect today.[8][9]

The Beirut car bombing occurred "within the continuously evolving framework of an American 'preemption' counterterror program".[7] Following the 1983 United States embassy bombing and the 1984 U.S. embassy annex bombing, the U.S. military considered a range of retaliatory options, but it was unclear that these would have any deterrent value. On November 14, 1983, U.S.President Ronald Reagan authorized a retaliatory strike, but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger did not authorize U.S. aircraft to take off for reasons that have not been disclosed.[10] CIA director William Casey, along with CIA General Counsel Stanley Sporkin, favored the use of preemptive terrorism practices in Lebanon; others, including Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John N. McMahon, did not approve of the strategy, concerned that it would violate Executive Order 12333.[7]

Responsibility[edit | edit source]

Reporter Bob Woodward wrote that CIA director William Casey, on his deathbed, had admitted personal culpability in the attack, which he suggests was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia.[11] Fadlallah would later suggest the amount $3,000,000 as the price that had been offered by the Saudis for Casey to arrange the bombing.[12] Woodward suggests that Fadlallah accepted $2 million from the Saudis to stop attacks from Hezbollah.[11] Asked about the allegations, President Reagan responded, "Never would I sign anything that would authorize an assassination... I never have, and I never will, and I didn't."[11]

The U.S. National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, stated that those responsible for the bomb may have had American training, but asserted that they were "rogue operative[s]," and the CIA in no way sanctioned or supported the attack.[13] Woodward's own account of his conversation with Casey suggests that Casey's action was "off the books".[11][14]

A former CIA operative maintains that the failed 1985 attempt tarnished the CIA's reputation.[15]

Other bombings[edit | edit source]

A car bomb on 22 May killed 48 people. Another on 14 August killed 15 people. Another on 18 August went off in a Christian suburb of East Beirut. The dynamites caused the death of fifty people. It was one of the worst explosions to take place in the city's east, which was relatively calm compared to the west.[3]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "60 killed by Beirut car bomb". London. 9 March 1985. https://www.theguardian.com/fromthearchive/story/0,,1432945,00.html. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  2. Davis, Mike (18 April 2006). "A history of the car bomb (Part 2): Car bombs with wings". http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/HD18Aa01.html. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Archived copy". https://www.nytimes.com/1985/08/18/world/car-bomb-kills-50-in-christian-area-near-east-beirut.html. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Smith, William E. (27 May 1985). "Lebanon Blackmail in Beirut". http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,957011-1,00.html. Retrieved 17 January 2007. 
  5. "1985: Beirut car bomb kills dozens". 8 March 1985. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/8/newsid_2516000/2516407.stm. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  6. Bovard, James (9 June 2004). "Terrorism Debacles in the Reagan Administration". The Future of Freedom Foundation. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20060821215232/http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0406c.asp. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Chasdi, Richard J. "An Analysis of Counterterror Practice Failure: The Case of the Fadlallah Assassination Attempt" Archived 21 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Archived 21 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Project on National Security Reform. Accessed 31 March 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hosmer, Stephen T. Operations Against Enemy Leaders. 2001, page 10.
  9. Addicott, Jeffrey F. Terrorism Law: The Rule Of Law And The War On Terror. 2004, page 155.
  10. Micah Zenko (9 October 2012). "Don't Just 'Do Something'". https://foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/10/09/dont_just_do_something. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Richard Zoglin; Jay Peterzell and Bruce van Voorst (12 October 1987). "Did A Dead Man Tell No Tales?". http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,965712,00.html. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  12. Cochrane, Paul (5 July 2004). "Will U.S. Foreign Policy Increase Terrorism?". World Press. http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/1891.cfm. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  13. "target america: terrorist attacks on americans, 1979–1988". Archived from the original on 24 January 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20070124072452/http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/cron.html. Retrieved 23 January 2007. 
  14. "Target America: Interview: Bob Woodward". September 2001. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/interviews/woodward.html. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  15. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/10/qassem-suleimani-and-how-nations-decide-to-kill

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