WASHINGTON (Sep. 20)
The terrorist attack which destroyed the U.S. Embassy annex in east Beirut today may have been in retaliation for a U.S. veto of a United Nations Security Council resoltuion demanding that Israel withdraw its forces from south Lebanon, a State Department official said.
“It is certainly possible,” Department spokesman John Hughes said. He said that on September 8, two days after the UN vote, a group identifying itself as the “Islamic Jihad” (Holy War) telephoned a news agency in Beirut saying it would act shortly against American interests in the Middle East. “I think the threat was linked to the U.S. vote in the Security Council on the Lebanon debate,” Hughes said.
After a van loaded with explosives blew up outside the Embassy annex early this morning, the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. The same group claimed responsibility for the explosion that destroyed the U.S. Embassy in West Beirut in April, 1983 and the car-bomb attack in October, 1983 that killed some 250 American servicemen of the multinational force then in Beirut.
Although the group has been linked to the regime of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, Hughes said today that the U.S. has not yet identified the terrorists. He had no comment on whether the U.S. would retaliate.
Hughes said it is believed that two Americans were killed and 20 injured in today’s explosion. One of the injured was U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew. Also injured was the British Ambassador to Lebanon who was visiting the Embassy annex at the time.
APPRECIATION FOR ISRAEL’S OFFER
Hughes expressed U.S. appreciation for the offers of help from Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and from Britain and Cyprus, including hospital facilities. He said Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has already telephoned the Israelis to express his appreciation.
Hughes said the decision on whether to use Israeli or other medical facilities to treat the wounded would be made by a State Department team which went to Beirut today from Cairo. Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East and South Asian Affairs, also left for Beirut today to lead a State Department group that will investigate the incident.
Hughes revealed that the Embassy annex is guarded by members of the Lebanese Armed Force, the Christian Phalangist private army which is under contract to and is trained by the U.S. It is not the official Lebanese army.
The six-story annex has been in use since last July 31 and most of the 30-35 Americans employed at the Embassy work out of there because it is believed more secure. Some Americans still work out of the Chancellery in west Beirut. A new Embassy is being built in west Beirut which will have the latest security devices, Hughes said.