WASHINGTON D.C., April 18, 2007— -- Beirut was arguably the most dangerous city in the world. Car bombs inside the city were common, and extremist elements plotted in the nearby Bekaa Valley.
It was exactly 25 years ago today that a bomber detonated 2,000 lbs. of explosives in front of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and killed more than 60 people, including 17 Americans. Forty-four people inside the embassy survived.
Among them was the man who leads the U.S. Embassy in what is now considered the most dangerous place for American diplomats: Baghdad. Ambassador Ryan Crocker was serving as a political officer in Beirut and survived the blast.
It was at the time the deadliest terror attack on Americans abroad; six months later another bomber killed 241 in an attack on the U.S. Marine barracks near the Beirut airport.
Today many of the survivors of the 1983 embassy bombing and the families of the victims gathered at the State Department to remember those who died.
The U.S. Ambassador at the time, Robert Dillon, spoke at the ceremony and described being pulled from the rubble by his deputy and secretary moments after the blast. Once they descended the stairs of the building, they discovered the full extent of the damage.
Finding wounded colleagues just below his office gave way, on the lower floors, to the sight of others who died in the attack. As Dillon concluded his remarks his voice cracked, and he struggled through his final sentences.
While Dillon escaped with only minor injuries, many were not so lucky, including aides waiting for him near the entrance where the explosion occurred, employees in the cafeteria, the CIA's entire Middle East team, an American journalist, several American servicemen and numerous Lebanese civilians who were either inside the embassy to apply for a visa or simply passing by the building.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who opened the ceremony, called the survivors "a source of hope" coming out of the tragedy and said the current situation in Lebanon, where pro-democracy politicians are killed in the streets, is "unacceptable to the U.S."
"It is in championing democracy in Lebanon that we honor those who died," Rice said.
Years later the issue of embassy security is still a hot topic as U.S. embassies around the world remain a prime target for protestors and terrorists. In recent years the embassies or consulates in Serbia, Chad, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been targeted by mobs or terrorists.
Officials attributed the Beirut embassy's proximity to the street as its primary vulnerability to attack. Following similar attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, subsequent embassies have had to comply with strict guidelines designed to prevent attacks, including sufficient setback from the street.
The mammoth new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which after many delays and much controversy over its cost and size will finally be occupied in the coming weeks, is the most fortified U.S. embassy in the world, an attempt to avert the kind of attacks such as that on the embassy in Beirut.
The goal is to ensure that Ambassador Crocker and his colleagues will not have to live through another bombing, as Baghdad's tenuous security situation resembles that of Beirut in the 1980s.