I. THE TERRORIST ATTACK
A. Principal Findings.
Five eyewitnesses described a large yellow Mercedes Benz stakebed truck traveling at a speed reportedly in excess of 35 MPH moving from the public parking lot south of the BLT Headquarters building through the barbed wire and concertina fence, into the main entrance of the building where it detonated at approximately 0622, Beirut time, on Sunday, 23 October 1983. The truck penetrated the perimeter barbed and concertina wire obstacle (See Figure 6-1), passed between guard Posts 6 and 7 without being engaged, entered an open gate, passed around one sewer pipe and between two other pipes, flattened the Sergeant of the Guard's sand bagged booth, entered the interior lobby of the building and exploded.
An eyewitness was defined as an individual who actually saw the truck but not necessarily its driver. Four of the eyewitnesses are Marines who were members of the guard: three lance corporals and a sergeant. The other eyewitnesses a Marine corporal who had just returned from a security patrol. Their accounts are detailed and corroborative.
In general, based on descriptions provided by the eyewitnesses who saw him, the driver of the truck was a young adult Caucasian male with black hair and mustache and wearing a blue or green shirt, open at the front. No other individuals were seen in the truck by the eyewitnesses.
A similar yellow Mercedes Benz type truck was observed at about 0500 by the sentry on Post 6 entering the parking lot south of the BLT Headquarters building. The truck circled once, then exited to the south. Because that truck did not stop, it was not reported.
A truck was observed by the sentry on Post 6 accelerating westward and parallel to the wire barricade (See Figure 6-2). The truck then abruptly turned north, ran over the wire barricade, and accelerated northward between Posts 6 and 7.
The sentry on Post 7 heard the truck as it ran over the wire, then observed it and immediately suspected it was a vehicle bomb. He inserted a magazine in his M-16 rifle,
Both sentries realized the truck was, in fact, a "car bomb" and therefore took cover within their respective bunkers. One sentry hid in the corner of his bunker and did not observe the detonation. The other sentry partially observed the detonation from behind the blast wall to the rear of the bunker. He saw the top of the building explode vertically in a V-shape. He then took cover inside his bunker for protection from the falling debris.
The sentry on Post 5 also spotted the truck as it accelerated northward into the building. The truck passed so quickly that he could not react in any way although he understood the truck's purpose. He was unable to take cover in his bunker and was knocked to the ground by the blast; however, he escaped uninjured.
A reconnaissance NCO was standing near a water trailer located approximately 25 meters east of the southeast corner of the building. He had just returned from a security patrol. He was facing east when he heard an accelerating engine behind him. Thinking it was a large Marine truck speeding, he turned westward and saw the terrorist's truck accelerating from left to right in his field of vision. He, too, immediately suspected the truck's hostile purpose. As the vehicle entered the building, he turned to run for cover in a nearby shower gutter but was knocked down by the blast.
Meanwhile, the Sergeant of the Guard was at his post located at the building's main entrance (south). His post was a small both-shaped structure, similar in size and positioning to that of a ticket vendor's booth in a movie theater. The structure had been reinforced with a double-wall of sandbags around its girth.
The Sergeant of the Guard was alone at his post, facing inward (north) toward the lobby, when he heard noses to his rear, to include a high-revving engine. he turned and saw the truck closing rapidly on his post as it passed through the open gate of the permanent (Lebanese-constructed) fence (See Figure 6-3). His first reaction was a surprised question: "What is that truck doing inside the perimeter?" or thoughts to that effect. Immediately thereafter he realized the truck was hostile and ran out of his post and across the lobby toward the rear entrance (north). As he ran, he repeatedly yelled "hit the deck! Hit the deck!" and glanced back over his shoulder as the truck continued toward
When the truck exploded (See Figure 6-4), it created an oblong crater measuring 39' by 29'6" and 8'8" in depth (See Figure 6-5). The southern edge of the crater was thirteen feet into the lobby. To create such a c, the explosion penetrated and destroyed the concrete floor which measured 7 inches in thickness and which was reinforced throughout with 1-3/4" diameter iron rods. Because of the structure of the building -- it had a large covered courtyard extending from the lobby floor to the roof -- the effect of the explosion was greatly intensified. This was caused by the confinement of the explosive force within the building and the resultant convergence of force vectors. This "tamping effect" multiplied the blast effect to the point that the bottom of the building was apparently blown out and the upper portions appeared to have collapsed on top of it. The force of the explosion initially lifted the entire building upward, shearing the base off its upright concrete columns, each of which was 15 feet in circumference and reinforced throughout with 1-3/4" diameter iron rods. The building then imploded upon itself and collapsed toward its weakest point -- its sheared undergirding.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assessment is that the bomb employed a "gas-enhanced" technique to greatly magnify its explosive force which has been estimated at over 12,000 pound effective yield equivalent of TNT.
The FBI Forensic Laboratory described the bomb as the largest conventional blast ever seen by the explosive experts community. Based upon the FBI analysis of the bomb that destroyed the U.S. Embassy on 19 April 1983, and the FBI preliminary findings on the bomb used on 23 October 1983, the Commission believes that the explosive equivalent of the latter device was of such magnitude that major damage to the BLT Headquarters building and significant casualties would probably have resulted even if the terrorist truck had not penetrated USMNF defensive perimeter but had detonated in the roadway some 330 feet from the building.
II. THE AFTERMATH
The aftermath of the attack left a scene of severe injury, death and destruction (See Figure 6-5). The dust and debris remained suspended in the air for many minutes after the explosion, creating the effect of a dense fog. There was a distinct odor present, variously described as both sweet and acrid, which one individual remembered as being present after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in April 1983. The carnage and confusion made it difficult to establish control immediately. The explosion had eliminated the entire BLT Headquarters command structure. The initial actions of individual survivors were in response to their first impression of what had happened.
In his headquarters, the MAU Commander thought the MAU COC had been hit and went downstairs to investigate. The sentries closest to the BLT Headquarters building thought the compound was being subjected to a rocket attack and tried to report by telephone to the Sergeant of the Guard. Some personnel at the MSSG Headquarters area thought an artillery attack was in progress and went to Alert Condition I.
Once it was realized that a catastrophe had occurred, the independent actions of individual Marines in various stages of shock and isolation began to meld into coordination, teamwork and cooperation. Lebanese civilians in the immediate area, the Lebanese Red Cross, Italian soldiers (engineers) from the Italian MNF, and Lebanese construction crews with heavy equipment converged on the scene and went to work, acting instinctively from their many previous experiences in Beirut.
The MAU Commander assumed operational control of the remaining BLT elements. He determined his priorities to be the rescue/medical evacuation effort and the re-establishment of the fire support coordination function. Because he anticipated the possibility of a follow-on attack, he charged the MAU Operations Officer with coordination of security on the scene. Additionally, an effort was made to preserve as much evidence as possible through photography and preliminary EOD work. Resources continued to arrive on scene and by early afternoon order was re-established. The last survivor extricated from the rubble was found at approximately 1300 that day.
Many individuals of the USMNF performed selfless and often heroic acts to assist their fellow Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. The response of the Lebanese citizens and the Italian MNF was superb. An example of this spontaneous outpouring of help was the response of a Lebanese construction company, which arrived with more heavy equipment than could physically be employed at one time and began immediate salvage and rescue efforts. The Italian soldiers assisted by moving the wounded and dead to Lebanese ambulances for evacuation to Lebanese hospitals or to the helicopter landing zones.
The MAU Commander remained concerned with his depleted security posture until he was reinforced with an additional rifle company deployed from the United States several days later. The MAU Commander properly perceived that his command was extremely vulnerable to a follow-on attack during the rescue/salvage operation.
The Commission takes particular note that the monumental demands placed upon the MAU Commander in the immediate aftermath of the attack required virtually superhuman effort. His situation was not enhanced by the large number of important visitors who arrived at his command in the days that followed. Throughout, the MAU Commander carried these burdens with dignity and resolve. In short, he performed admirably in the face of great adversity.