Twenty-five years ago on this day, April 18, I was driving back from the U.S. Marine compound near Beirut International Airport where a press conference was held for the big news item of the day: a Marine guarding the perimeter was shot at. The Marine was unhurt, but the bullet went through his baggy trousers. That was the top news item of the day
until 1:03 p.m. That was the exact time when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden van into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. The blast was heard and felt several miles away.
At 1:03 p.m. I was less than two miles away from the embassy, driving back from the Marine compound. It was a typical Beirut day; the sun was shining and traffic was a mess. Typical until 1:03 p.m.
A jeepload of the Beirut police known as Squad 16 was directly in front of my car and we both felt the shock of the explosion. They must have received an alert on their police radio as they immediately turned on their siren to make their way through the dense traffic. I kept on their tail knowing they were most likely heading for the site of the explosion. Noticing the sign on my windshield identifying me as a journalist, the policeman in the back of the jeep motioned me to follow.
We made it to the embassy within minutes. Or maybe I should say to what was left of the embassy. The scene was apocalyptic. There were mutilated bodies littering the sidewalks. People staring at them in utter shock and disbelief. Clouds of smoke and fire was coming out from one side of the embassy building. The embassy's Marine guards, those who had survived the blast, were trying to set up a security perimeter around the blast zone, as rescue crews arrived. Documents, no doubt many of them confidential, were floating through the air, taking their own time to reach the ground. It was as though they answered to a different set of gravity laws.
Walking around the corner toward the front of the building offered a scene of additional desolation. Its multistoried front faηade had collapsed like a house of cards. Trapped between two of the upper floors, part of a man's body could be seen. It took more than a day for rescue crews to get to it.
French soldiers serving with the multinational force from a nearby position arrived and assisted in setting up the security perimeter, until truckloads of Marines from the airport base arrived on the scene. Six months later the Marines became the target of another suicide bomber, but that's another story.
The man believed to be responsible for the Beirut Embassy bombing and numerous other attacks was Imad Mughnieh, a leader of Hezbollah suspected to have been acting on behalf of the Iranians. He was killed in February in Damascus by a bomb placed in the headrest of his car.
On this day in 1983, 25 years ago, 63 people among them 17 Americans died in the Beirut Embassy blast. They were the first victims in a new war being waged by an enemy working in the shadows. A war which continues to this day. But on that sunny day in Beirut, little did we know of what was to come.
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