The Khobar Towers bombing that took place on June 25, 1996, was a terrorist attack aimed at a part of a complex in the city of Khobar in Saudi Arabia (Jamieson, 2008). The complex was situated close to the King Abdulaziz Air Base and headquarters of Saudi Aramco – the national oil company. At the time of the attack, Khobar Towers served as accommodation for Coalition forces serving in Operation Southern Watch (Jamieson, 2008).
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The southern Iraq no-fly zone operation was a part of the Iraqi no-fly zones. The outcomes of the Khobar Towers bombing demonstrated the US Military and Intelligence Corps’ insufficient preparation for what was regarded as an intelligence deficiency that led to dramatic consequences in the next few years.
The Terrorist attack (1996 bombing of Khobar Towers)
A fuel truck filled with explosive materials was blown up next to Building 131 belonging to the Khobar Towers complex on the evening of June 25, 1996 (Strobl & Lindsay, 2009). On the night of the attack, the watch was passing quietly, and there was nothing unusual about the visibility, weather, or activity around the complex (Jamieson, 2008). Usually, the officer on duty would have been on patrol. However, on that night, sergeant Guerrero and another staff sergeant were performing a supervisor’s check for the two supervisors whose tours ended in on June 23 (Jamieson, 2008).
Another uncommon thing on the night of the attack was the time when post checks started. Usually, the NCO began the post checks sooner and came to the roof of Building 131 earlier. That evening, a Saudi national involved in suspicious activity was found by the agent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) (Jamieson, 2008). That event made Guerrero postpone his checks, and he began them at 9:30 p.m. Guerrero met Airman Wagar at the top of the building, and they stopped to talk. The time was nearly 9:50 p.m. The visibility of the area was rather good. The officers noticed two vehicles driving slowly along the southern edge of the parking lot.
The first vehicle was a white four-door Chevrolet Caprice, and the second one was a Mercedes-Benz sewage or fuel tanker, the capacity of which was 3,500-4,000 gallons (Jamieson, 2008). The vehicles moved to the unlit territory of the car park. The tanker started backing up in the direction of the hedges growing along the security fence’s north side. The officers realized that there was something “very wrong” about the situation (Jamieson, 2008, p. 10).
Things got even more threatening when two men jumped out of the tanker and got in the Caprice. When the car started moving away quickly, the officers realized that the tanker contained a bomb. Sergeant Guerrero and Airman Wagar rushed to inform everyone in the dormitory about the danger. Their actions were quick and organized, but unfortunately, not all people were saved. Nineteen American soldiers were killed in the attack, and nearly five hundred other Americans, as well as Bangladeshis and Saudis, were injured (Strobl & Lindsay, 2009). The Khobar Towers bombing was considered “the deadliest terrorist attack” on the US military corps since the bombing in Beirut in 1983 (Strobl & Lindsay, 2009, p. 283).
As a result of the attack, many significant and painful lessons were learned. However, the greatest impact of the tragedy was realized only several years later, when it became clear that too little attention had been paid to analyzing those lessons and preparing for the potential attacks (Jamieson, 2008; Strobl & Lindsay, 2009). The extremist Islamic ideology has much in common with fascism and Nazism due to the cruelty of methods preferred by these organizations.
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However, while Nazis were driven by the idea of racial intolerance, Islamofascism is focused on religious supremacy (Schwartz, 2009). The postulates of Islamic terrorism do not allow any other faith to attain legitimacy or even tolerance (Schwartz, 2009). Therefore, the Khobar Towers bombing is considered a terrorist attack because it was an unexpected intrusion with the deliberate employment of violence to attain political or religious purposes. It was one of the first actions done by Islamist terrorist organizations against the US military.
One of the most dangerous Islamic terrorist groups is Hezbollah, which was formed in 1982 (Falk & Kroitoru, 2009). This group was responsible for many deadly attacks against the US, the Khobar Towers bombing being one of them (Schwartz, 2009). The organization was initiated as a part of Iran’s program of spreading its “brand of religious revolution” to different parts of the world (Schwartz, 2009, p. 177).
The group helps other radical Shiite organizations and receives logistical and financial support from Iran. The Khobar Towers attack was organized and performed by Hezbollah Al-Hijaz – a Shiite terrorist organization that is based in South Arabia and resists the control of the country by the Saudi royal family. Particularly, the organization disapproves of control over Mecca and Medina – the holy cities for Muslims (Schwartz, 2009).
In the preparation of the Khobar Towers bombing, Hezbollah Al-Hijaz activists were assisted by Pásdárán – an organization from Iran that helped to arrange the group and supported its training that took place in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) camps in Lebanon and Iran. In 1994, the IRGC educated the group to get the members ready for the raids on likely US targets in the Saudi kingdom. In 1995, almost a year before the bombing, the organization designated Khobar Towers for the attack (Schwartz, 2009). The additional funding was provided by Iran, and the Lebanese group helped to design the bomb.
Hezbollah is an “umbrella” organization for several radical Shiite associations (Falk & Kroitoru, 2009, pp. 228-229). Shiite fundamentalists who initiated its establishment were guided by religious clerics. The latter considered the endorsement of the Iranian revolutionary religious dogma a resolution to political problems in Lebanon. However, the group did not stop at working on the achievement of that aim and soon became involved in international terrorism.
Hezbollah members kidnapped people for economic and political reasons, made suicide attacks, and engaged in other kinds of activities that caused much damage (Falk & Kroitoru, 2009). Based on their religious and political views, the aim of Hezbollah Al-Hijaz’s attack on Khobar Towers in 1996 ways to make the US Armed Forces leave the country.
As a reaction to the Khobar Towers attack, the US government admitted its failures in providing sufficient force protection for its officers and buildings. The US did not resort to any vengeance actions, and such an approach was considered wrong by many people. The criticism became more severe when after several attacks on the US soldiers in different countries, terrorists arranged a devastating on the US in 2001 (Schwartz, 2009).
The government concentrated on the analysis of the gaps in organizing soldiers’ protection. In a 1997 report concerning the attack, the US Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, outlined several reasons for the failure of force protection measures in Khobar Towers (Cohen, 1997). The major lack of strategic intelligence, as mentioned by Cohen, was not giving serious consideration to the attack in Riyadh in 1995. That event made it clear that there would be more terrorist attacks, but no measures were taken to improve the defense measures at Khobar Towers (Cohen, 1997). Serious deficiencies in evacuation and alarm systems were noticed as a result of the investigation.
Cohen noted the absence of an adequate alarm system that would warn soldiers about the attack. Although the Secretary of Defense expressed approval of Guerrero’s and Wagar’s actions, he remarked that such measures were not sufficient to save all people in the building (Cohen, 1997). The siren system at Khobar Towers had not been checked for two years before the accident, and difficulties were activating it.
Moreover, there were no instructions about the reaction in the event of such an attack (Cohen, 1997). Finally, Khobar Towers had no evacuation drills, which made it impossible to evaluate the efficiency of the evacuation plans (Cohen, 1997). An appropriate response of the US to the attack would have been punishing the guilty and demonstrating its power to eliminate the possibility of such attacks in the future.
The outcomes of the Khobar Towers bombing demonstrated the US Military and Intelligence Corps’ insufficient preparation for what was regarded as an intelligence deficiency that led to dramatic consequences in the next few years. The lessons learned from the attack were valuable but rather expensive. The bombing was one of the most devastating attacks of the Islamic terrorists whose activity is known to be extremist and merciless. Critics agree that a different reaction of the US government to the Khobar Towers bombing might have prevented many severe terrorist attacks on the US soldiers and land.
Cohen, W. S. (1997). Personal accountability for force protection at Khobar Towers. Web.
Falk, O., & Kroitoru, H. (2009). The internationalization of suicide terrorism. In O. Falk & H. Morgenstern (Eds.), Suicide terror: Understanding and confronting the threat (pp. 225-300). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Jamieson, P. D. (2008). Khobar Towers: Tragedy and response. Washington, DC: U.S. Air Force History and Museums Program.
Schwartz, Y. (2009). The eagle and the snake: America’s experience with suicide bombings. In O. Falk & H. Morgenstern (Eds.), Suicide terror: Understanding and confronting the threat (pp. 175-224). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
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Strobl, S., & Lindsay, J. R. (2009). Lost in transition: Khobar Towers and the ambiguities of terrorism in the 1990s. In M. R. Haberfeld & A. von Hassel (Eds.), A new understanding of terrorism: Case studies, trajectories, and lessons learned (pp. 283-307). New York, NY: Springer.