WASHINGTON -- Twenty-five years ago this week, an intelligence report crossed my desk warning that Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon's Bekka Valley were preparing a major attack. Two months prior -- April 18, 1983 -- a Hezbollah truck bomb had exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 and wounding another 120. With this grim event in mind, we launched an "all-source" effort to determine the nature of the planned attack, the timing and the target. We failed.
At 6:22 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, 1983, the killers carried out their assault. A single terrorist in a Mercedes truck loaded with explosives crashed into the U.S. Marine compound near the Beirut Airport, turned into the lobby of the four-story headquarters, and detonated his lethal cargo. The blast brought down the building, killing 241 Americans and wounding 81 more. Two minutes later, a similar bomb exploded beneath a nearby French paratrooper barracks, killing 58. Until 9/11, it was the deadliest terror attack against Americans in history.
Since the truck-bomb attack on the Marines in Beirut, we have taken to calling these types of terror weapons "vehicular-borne improvised explosive devices," or "VBIEDs." In 1993, 10 years after Beirut, Islamic terrorists in New York used a VBIED to bomb the World Trade Center, killing six and wounding 1,042. The same kind of weapon was used in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia to kill 19 and wound 515. By 1998, al-Qaida had made the VBIED their weapon of choice, using them for nearly simultaneous attacks on the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 200 and injuring more than 4,000.
While covering U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for Fox News, I have been an eyewitness to nearly a dozen VBIED attacks. Last week, a suicide terrorist driving a small car swerved into the main gate at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. When security officers moved to stop him, the driver detonated his deadly cargo, blowing himself and 41 others to pieces. Had the VBIED gone off inside the compound, the carnage undoubtedly would have been even worse.
We have learned that VBIEDs are difficult to detect, hard to deter, and when they are detonated in an enclosed space, they're incredibly deadly. Bloody experience also has taught us that the best way to prevent this lethal destruction is to keep vehicles well away from buildings that are potential targets. Unfortunately, it is a lesson we may learn again -- in our nation's capital.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.