CIA uses car bomb in attempt to assassinate kill Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah

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Event #582 CIA uses car bomb in attempt to assassinate kill Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah
Date: Friday, 8 Mar 1985

According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (who interviewed ex-CIA Director William Casey in Washington's Georgetown University Hospital in Winter 1986/87, when the latter was gravely ill following brain surgery): in 1985, Casey worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the Shiite Muslim cleric who was spiritual leader of Hezbollah and who, they determined, was one of the people behind the Marine barracks bombing and the taking of American hostages in Beirut. Operatives allegedly trained by the CIA set off a car bomb in an attempt to kill Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the Shiite Muslim cleric who some believe to be the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Over 80 people are killed in the attack near a Beirut mosque. Fadlallah survives. President Reagan and the CIA call off covert operations.

Franklin Lamb writes:

The March 8, 1985 Bir Abed Massacre and a US Offer

An initial US offer to Hezbollah followed a massive US terrorist attack in Lebanon and its aftermath is instructive regarding the occasional American disposition to achieve a modus operandi or perhaps vivendi with Hezbollah.

In December of 1984, the Reagan administration was furious with the March 5, 1984 cancellation of the May 17th Agreement, which required the US to conduct 35 negotiation sessions just to fulfill Israeli conditions and controls regarding the treaty. Israel and the White House blamed the yet to be publicly announced Hezbollah, as well as Syrian President Hafez al Assad, for the collapse of the Israel-Lebanon 'Agreement'. Suspicions also existed that this 'new religious group', one of more than 30 civil war era militias operating in Lebanon at the time (fascinating political posters from 30 of these groups are now on exhibition at Planet Discovery Hall in Beirut as part of the April 13 anniversary of the 1975-90 civil war) may have been involved in actions against the US.

(CIA agent Robert Baer, now a contributor to Time Magazine, was given the job of finding out who bombed the US Embassy on April 18, 1983. During his March 2008 visit to Lebanon, Baer reminded reporters that his final report delivered to the White House more than 20 years ago concluded there was no proof to charge anyone, including Imad Mughniyeh, with either the April Embassy or the October 1983 Marine barracks attack. His conclusions are just as valid today, he advised interlocutors at the Beirut Vendome Hotel last month).

The unpleasant fact for the Reagan administration was that Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon. The Reagan administration and especially CIA Director William Casey were left hungry for revenge - against someone.

Casey won approval for NSDD-166, a secret directive that inaugurated a new era of direct infusions of advanced U.S. military technology into the Middle East, which was to become the greatest technology transfer of terrorist techniques in history.

By January of 1985, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in Veil, his book on Casey's career, he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to eliminate an Israeli recommended 'liability'. Lebanese agents led by a former British SAS officer and financed by $15 million arranged by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, were activated.

According to Woodward, Casey told his staff: "I'm going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher than or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon, the car bomb." With its new authority, the CIA set up 'counterterrorism units' similar to those Bush authorized in 2007. Casey quickly funded the "Foreign Work and Analysis Unit" (FWAU) inside Lebanon which had the assassination of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah as its first priority. Others targeted for death were Lebanese former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, Imad Mughniyeh and Walid Jumblatt, then supporting the PLO. The FWAU conducted a car bombing campaign in Muslim areas of Beirut and targeted the Cinema Salwa, Beirut's Raouche Market, Sabra Street, the Abu Nawwas restaurant, and the Druze Social Centre, among others, killing at least 280 civilians and wounding nearly 1,150. This mayhem was designed to ignite further internal strife and to send the Lebanese Resistance a message and offer: 'Support a new May 17 agreement with Israel and we can help you.' When this 'offer' was unanswered, and on the Mossad's recommendation to Casey, Fadlallah was targeted on March 8, 1985.

The Bir Abed Massacre was caused by an enormous car bomb outside Fadlallah's home as he was conducting a religious studies class for women. Had a neighborhood woman not detained him with questions, Fadallah would have been at nearly the exact spot where the rigged vehicle exploded according to Hezbollah investigators. The blast killed 83 people, mainly school girls, women and children, and wounded 283.

The attempted assassination of Fadlallah, who is to this day Lebanon's most respected senior Shi'ite cleric and social worker, enraged Lebanon, including Dahiyeh's two century old Christian community, long beneficiaries of his social services and respectful of his calls for religious dialogue and tolerance. Six months later, on September 12, in what appeared to be a tit for tat operation, the supposedly impregnable perimeter defenses of the new U.S. embassy in eastern Beirut was attacked killing 23 employees and visitors.

Eleven local individuals confessed to various roles in the Bir Abed bombing. The terrorist attack was based on now admitted faulty Israeli supplied "intelligence". Israel had advised the Reagan administration that Fadlallah was the founder, spiritual leader, and chief of operations for Hezbollah and was behind attacks on the US Embassy and the Marine barracks as well as the kidnappings of western hostages. Not one of the claims was true as the White House was later to learn. But at the time, CIA Director William Casey was beside himself that the US had, less than a year earlier, been forced out of Lebanon by what he told the President were "third rate rabble-rousers".

President Reagan, by way of acknowledging the US error and American regrets, signed off on a reported nearly $20 million dollar secret "offer" to Sayeed Fadlallah, conveyed through a current Lebanese political leader, who was not at the time a member of Parliament, to help support the Senior cleric's orphanages and social service centers. A US condition of the cash was that there was to be no paper trail. Fadallah rejected the offer stating he would not be part of a private arrangement which he could not disclose to his community.

Despite the Fadlallah fiasco, Casey remained an enthusiast for using urban terrorism to advance American goals. A year after the Bir Abed massacre, U.S. Special Forces experts started a five year program focusing on high-tech explosives and taught state-of-the-art sabotage techniques, distributed sabotage training manuals in different languages, offered instruction on how to make cheap electronic bomb detonators including the fabrication of ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) and car bombs. Huge quantities of CIA-supplied plastic explosives as well as thousands of advanced E-cell delay detonators (some CIA knockoffs) still flow around the Middle East.

The US educational initiative, in contrast to Bekaa Valley 'extension courses' which did train motivated Lebanese anxious to resist the Israeli occupation, opened full scholarship bomb makers "Graduate Schools" and trained thousands of mujahidin and future al Qaeda cadres. Some of the 'graduates' drove the Soviets from Afghanistan. More recently, others supplied salafists for Nahr al Bared and Ein el Helwe and are today setting up networks in Lebanon. The Bush administration has clearly lost control of this blowback and some officials think engaging Hezbollah offers a solution.

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