1985 Beirut Car Bombing
On 8 March 1985, a car bomb
Car bomb
A car bomb, or truck bomb also known as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device , is an improvised explosive device placed in a car or other vehicle and then detonated. It is commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupants of the vehicle,...

 exploded between 9 and 45 metres from the house of Islamic cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon, with a population ranging from 1 million to more than 2 million . Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport, and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan...

, Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

, in a failed assassination
To carry out an assassination is "to murder by a sudden and/or secret attack, often for political reasons." Alternatively, assassination may be defined as "the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons."An assassination may be...

 attempt organized by the American CIA and British intelligence. The bombing killed more than 60 people and injured 200, almost all civilians.

The blast

The bomb explosion, estimated to have been equivalent to 200 kg (440 lbs) of dynamite
Dynamite is an explosive material based on nitroglycerin, initially using diatomaceous earth , or another absorbent substance such as powdered shells, clay, sawdust, or wood pulp. Dynamites using organic materials such as sawdust are less stable and such use has been generally discontinued...

, occurred in the western Beirut suburb of Bir al-Abed, outside an apartment building. It killed worshippers leaving Friday prayer services at an adjacent mosque
A mosque is a place of worship for followers of Islam. The word is likely to have entered the English language through French , from Portuguese , from Spanish , and from Berber , ultimately originating in — . The Arabic word masjid literally means a place of prostration...

, and destroyed two 7-story apartment buildings and a cinema.

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.

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

Historic context

In 1976, Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford
Gerald Rudolph "Jerry" Ford, Jr. was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974...

 became the first U.S. President to forbid political assassination, in the wake of the Church Commission, issuing Executive Order 11905
Executive Order 11905
Executive Order 11905 is a United States Presidential Executive Order signed on February 18, 1976, by President Gerald R. Ford as an attempt to reform the United States Intelligence Community, improve oversight on foreign intelligence activities, and ban political assassination...

. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 strengthened the policy with Executive Order 12333
Executive Order 12333
On December 4, 1981 President Ronald Reagan signedExecutive Order 12333,an Executive Order intended toextend powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies and direct the leaders of U.S...

, 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.

The Beirut car bombing occurred "within the continuously evolving framework of an American 'preemption' counterterror program". Following the 1983 United States embassy bombing
1983 United States Embassy bombing
The 1983 U.S. embassy bombing was a suicide bombing against the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on April 18, 1983 that killed over 60 people, mostly embassy staff members and United States Marines and sailors. It was the deadliest attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission up to that time, and is...

 and the 1984 Hezbollah attack on US embassy annex building in West Beirut, CIA director William Casey, along with CIA General Council Stanley Sporkin
Stanley Sporkin
Stanley Sporkin is a former judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He was nominated to the seat vacated by Judge June Lazenby Green on April 5, 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, and was confirmed by the Senate on December 16; he received his commission the next day...

, favored the use of preemptive counter-terrorism practices in Lebanon; others, including Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John N. McMahon
John N. McMahon
John N. McMahon is a former senior U.S. official of the Central Intelligence Agency. He joined the CIA in 1951, and served as Deputy Director for Operations from 1978-81 and later as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from 1982 to 1986....

, did not approve of the strategy, concerned that it would violate Executive Order 12333.


Reporter Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward
Robert Upshur Woodward is an American investigative journalist and non-fiction author. He has worked for The Washington Post since 1971 as a reporter, and is currently an associate editor of the Post....

 wrote that CIA director William Casey, while lying on his deathbed, had admitted personal culpability in the attack, which he suggests was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

. 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. Woodward suggests that Fadlallah accepted $2 million from the Saudis to stop attacks from Hezbollah. 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."

The U.S. National Security Advisor
National Security Advisor (United States)
The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, commonly referred to as the National Security Advisor , serves as the chief advisor to the President of the United States on national security issues...

, Robert McFarlane
Robert McFarlane
Robert Carl "Bud" McFarlane was a National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, serving from 1983 through 1985.After a career in the Marines, he became part of the Reagan administration, and was a leading architect of the Strategic Defense Initiative for defending the United States...

, 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. Woodward's own account of his conversation with Casey suggests that Casey's action was "off the books".
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