Death toll climbs to 192 in U.S. military barracks attack in Beirut

By WADIE KIROLOS   |   Oct. 25, 1983
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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The death toll climbed inexorably to 192 Monday as angry Marines clawed through the ruins of their headquarters to recover the bodies of comrades crushed in a suicide bombing. A pro-Iranian group proclaiming its 'love of death' claimed responsibility.

The commander of Marines in Beirut vowed to track down every accomplice of the lone killer, who reportedly smiled as he crashed a truck packed with a ton of TNT into the Beirut Airport building Sunday and detonated the explosives.

Forty-one French paratroopers were killed a minute later in a similar suicide attack on their barracks 3 miles from the Marine Battalion Landing Team complex. Sixteen French soldiers were wounded and 15 others reported missing.

As the search went on in the headquarters rubble, the Pentagon said 192 servicemen were confirmed dead and unofficial Marine reports in Beirut listed 32 soldiers as missing. Eighteen of 75 Marines wounded in the attack were in critical or serious condition in military hospitals in Italy, Cyprus and West Germany.

The suicide bombing was the bloodiest attack against U.S. servicemen since the Vietnam War. A Red Cross worker grimly announced 'no survivors have been found. Dead, yes, but no survivors.' CBS News, quoting U.S. intelligence sources, said the bombings were masterminded by a 'renegade Lebanese Shiite Moslem loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini' identified as Abu Musawi.

President Reagan, calling the bombers 'vicious, cowardly and ruthless,' said the Marines must stay in Lebanon because 'we must not allow international criminals and thugs to undermine the struggle for peace.'

Outraged congressmen, however, voiced new demands to end the Marines' peace-keeping role in Lebanon's virtually unending civil war.

The leaders of the three other nations in the peace force also refused to pull their troops out of Lebanon, and Secretary of State George Shultz summoned the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Italy to a summit in Europe Saturday.

Shultz said 'we cannot walk away' from Lebanon without showing the rest of the world that reliance on the United States 'is a fatal mistake.'

French President Francois Mitterrand made a surprise visit to the scene of both bombings, at one point hesitating at the Marine base to listen to gunfire in the area.

France sent 14 experts with trained dogs and detection devices to search for its soldiers. Two were rescued alive Monday and officials said it was possible to live up to 10 days in the rubble.

The CIA, French and Lebanese security agencies pursued a joint investigation into the attacks, which U.S. officials suggested may have had the assistance of Iran and possibly Syria.

Marine Commandant Paul Kelley flew to Beirut to review security and Col. Timothy Geraghty, commander in Beirut, said the attack was similar to the car bombing that killed 63 people at the U.S. Embassy in April.

Iran dismissed allegations it was responsible and said the bombings reflected Lebanese resistance to the presence of the peace-keeping force, made up of U.S., French, Italian and British troops.

But the Islamic Holy War, which claimed responsibility for the April embassy bombing, said it carried out the twin suicide missions.

The group's members are believed to be associated with Shiite Moslem fundamentalists predominant in the slums bordering the Marine base and supporters of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The CBS report said U.S intelligence last month intercepted messages from the Iranian foreign ministry to its embassy in Beirut about a planned attack against American forces and installations in Lebanon.

CBS said no details of the time or location of the attack were mentioned but intelligence analysts now believe those messages referred to the Sunday bombing.

The sources said Musawi, with headquarters behind Syrian lines in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, maintains close contact with Iranian intelligence officers at the Iranian embassy in Beirut and travels regularly to Iran.

On Sunday, a previously unknown group called the Free Islamic Revolution Movement said it carried out the attack.

On Monday, Marines wore helmets and flak jackets as they dug through the rubble because of previous sniping from the surrounding Shiite slums. A buried ammunition dump in the basement of the destroyed complex also hindered the recovery.

Geraghty said the rescuers were growing angry as they worked round the clock with bulldozers, chisels and axes to cut through twisted steel and lift 2-foot-thick concrete slabs layer by layer to find more bodies.

One Marine snapped momentarily at reporters who photographed the growing array of bodies, secret documets, letters from loved ones, snapshots and other personal effects of the peace-keepers.

Robert Calhoun, a 21-year-old Marine who was on the roof of the building and survived the bombing, said the sentry told him the suicide driver 'was smiling' as he sped into the four-story headquarters.

'That is something I will always remember,' said Calhoun, of San Antonio, Texas, who said he heard what seemed like 'a thousand people screaming, 'Help me, God help me.''

Four C-141 transport planes carrying 150 Marines to replace those killed in the peace-keeping force flew from Norfolk, Va., to Beirut, via the Rhine-Main Air Base in West Germany where the planes refueled and flew on to Lebanon.

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